In September 2017, we published research that showed insurers were breaking the law by taking into account old criminal records.

In July 2019, the insurance industry trade body issued updated guidance to insurers on how they should treat people with convictions

We’re monitoring the questions that insurers use to ask about criminal records to ensure that they are not asking for, or taking into account, spent convictions.

For more latest news, you can:

  1. see the posts at the bottom of this page
  2. click here for a full list of news posts
  3. sign up our mailing list to receive updates by email
  4. follow the latest on Twitter using the hashtag #unlockinsurance

The problem

People with unspent convictions face difficulties in getting house and motor insurance.

Insurance companies regularly take into account convictions that have no relevance to the insurance being sought.

People with unspent convictions pay disproportionately more for their insurance.

Insurers fail to follow industry good-practice and are often misleading in the questions or assumptions they have, suggesting that people with spent convictions need to disclose these.

What we think needs to change

The insurance industry should update good practice and insurance providers should implement clear and consistent wording in relation to asking about unspent convictions.

Insurance companies should only take into account unspent convictions that are directly relevant to the specific type of insurance.

Mainstream insurers should develop systems that better enable customers to provide details of their unspent conviction so that individual considerations can be made.

In addition insurers should:

  1. Follow good practice when asking about criminal records (including Unlock & ABI guidance).
  2. Review their policies to ensure that they are consistent with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
  3. Ensure that their customer services staff are trained on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and have access to internal guidance that enables them to respond to queries raised by customers.
  4. Ensure that they make it clear to applicants that they only have to disclose unspent convictions (and/or do not have to disclose spent convictions).
  5. Provide advice and links on how applicants can find out if their convictions are spent.
  6. Not rely on assumptions about criminal records and instead should ask a clear question about unspent convictions.
  7. If they exclude people with unspent convictions, make this clear to applicants and create links with specialist providers to ensure that customers with convictions are treated fairly
  8. Stop using police records as part of any checking process (as this has been a criminal offence since March 2015).
  9. Honour claims if they did not make clear the need to declare unspent convictions at the point of taking out the policy.

What we’ve achieved

  1. We’ve developed practical guidance and a list of insurers that provide a variety of insurance to people with convictions.
  2. We’ve secured important reforms to insurance disclosure law.
  3. We made significant progress through our Unlocking Insurance project.


What we’re doing

  1. We’re monitoring the questions that insurers use to ask about criminal records to ensure that they are not asking for, or taking into account, spent convictions.
  2. We continue to push the insurance industry to use evidence-based risk-pricing models and treat people with convictions fairly.

Latest news

Insurance industry trade body issues updated guidance to insurers on how they should treat people with convictions (July 2019)

Press release: Insurance companies are breaking the law by taking into account old criminal records (September 2017)

The way insurers lock out people with court convictions is bizarre (February 2016)

Criminal Convictions & Insurance – Briefing for Insurers (January 2016)

See the bottom of this page for more latest posts about our work on insurance.

You can also find below the latest from Twitter, using the hashtag #unlockinsurance (although we cannot endorse what gets displayed here).

The facts

  1. At least 750,000 people have unspent criminal convictions and struggle to get cover
  2. 86% of former prisoners find it harder to get insurance because of their criminal record
  3. Four-fifths of former prisoners say that they are charged more for insurance because of their criminal record
  4. Critically, we have never seen any robust evidence for the claim that correlates criminal records and higher risk. Quite the opposite. The specialist brokers that work quietly behind the scenes have some of the best claims ratios of all of their customers.

Working with insurers

Through working with insurers, we help to make sure that they treat people with convictions fairly. A selection of case studies are below:

If you’re interested in working with us, please get in touch.


Case study – John

John was convicted of attempted murder in 1971. He got a life sentence. He’s been out of prison for nearly 30 years. But when he discloses that conviction to insurance firms, they refuse to cover the contents of his flat.

“In 1971, I was attacked and I retaliated a couple of weeks later. I was convicted of attempted murder. I got a life sentence. I was 23 years old.

“In 1986 I had a stroke and was discharged from prison and came to live here. I’ve lived here a number of years, and I can’t get household contents insurance. I’ve tried many times but because I answer the question “do you have any criminal convictions”, because I put “yes”, I’m declined insurance because they say that thee sentence isn’t spent. Well, it can’t be spent because I’m on life parole. So, the only way I can get insurance is to lie, but if I do lie and they find out, I’ll have paid money for years, possibly for nothing, becuase they will find any excuse not to pay out, and that would be a valid reason because I hadn’t answered the question truthfully.

“I just feel like I’m still being sentenced. I’m vulnerable because I’m now getting on; I’m 72 years of age. I would feel comfortable if I could have household contents insurance; I just want to insure the few bits and pieces I’ve got.

“I’ve been to a broker. The housing authority offer household insurance but they declined to insure me. I’ve been to Aviva, I’ve been to Direct Line. None of them will insure me because I have an unspent conviction. There are several politicians that have been to jail for fraud yet their convictions will be spent. Well mines never spent because it was a life sentence.

“How can I integrate with society if I can’t have household contents insurance. I feel like I’m missing. I think I should be treated as everyone else. I have been almost 30 years out of prison. I can get car insurance. I get travel insurance. Why can I not have household contents insurance? And why should I pay a higher premium? I think I should be treated just as Joe Bloggs in the street is treated, who’s 72 years of age, living in a local authority property and just gets on with life.”  John

This case study is taken from a contribution to Radio 4’s Money Box in 2014 which was about insurance and convictions and which featured a contribution from Unlock.

Case study – Paul

Paul came out of prison after serving a 4 month sentence for theft. Luckily for Paul, he was able to move back home with his dad. Stable accommodation is a key factor in reducing the risk of people re-offending.

Unfortunately, his dad didn’t realise the impact his son’s criminal record would have on his buildings insurance. When he came to renew his policy, he saw the details he’d provided about people living in the property – he’d previously said nobody had any unspent convictions. That had changed since his son returned home. When he told his insurers, they said they could no longer insure him and wouldn’t renew his policy. Suddenly, without buildings insurance, his mortgage
was at risk.

Paul’s sentence for theft was technically unspent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and would remain that way for a further two years after the end of his full sentence. Major home insurers take a blanket policy towards people with unspent convictions – they simply don’t offer insurance to people with unspent convictions, without any consideration of how relevant it is.

When Paul got in touch with the Unlock helpline, it advised him where he stood. It informed him that his dad would need to disclose his son’s conviction while it was unspent and while he was still living there. Unlock also provided him with its list of specialist insurance brokers who can help people in these types of situations. When Unlock spoke to Paul a couple of weeks later, he said:

“I’ve finally been able to find insurance for my dad’s house through Unlock’s list. We’ve had to pay quite a bit more, but at least we’ve got something. At one point my Dad was really worried that he was going to have to throw me out the house as he didn’t want to take the risk with his mortgage. I was never told anything about the problems around insurance when I left prison, and I don’t see why it makes a different to my dad’s insurance.”

Case study – Paula

Paula was convicted of an overpayment of benefits 6 years ago. She was given a 4 month suspended prison sentence. The conviction became spent around three and half years ago, because under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, that sentence becomes spent 2 years after the end of the 4-month sentence.

“Pretty much straight after my conviction, we had to renew our home contents insurance, and our existing insurer refused to renew it because I told them of the conviction. The only companies we ended up being able to get quotes from were specialist brokers that specifically helped people with unspent convictions.

“When I was originally convicted, nobody told me when my conviction would become spent, or what that would mean at that point. So for the last 3 years, I’ve been continuing to use specialist brokers for my insurance.

“Recently, I tried to get a quote online through the Post Office, but I ticked the box about convictions because they asked “Has anyone in the property ever been convicted…?” – I thought the right answer was “yes”, because I had, and they were unable to give me a quote.

“It wasn’t until I spoke to Unlock that they told me that my conviction was now spent and that I didn’t need to tell insurance companies anymore. Two weeks ago, I went and got a quote from Admiral. They made it clear that they only needed to know about unspent convictions, so I could confidently answer “no” to that without feeling like I was doing anything wrong.

“Why don’t insurers make that clear when they ask you the conviction question on the quote form? For the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve been paying over the odds with specialist brokers when I could have been using mainstream comparison websites and getting a much better deal.” Paula

Other case studies

Jane Roe – I am being punished for something I haven’t done – Insurance problems for family members

Our publications

Insurance providers & criminal records – Research into the questions asked (September 2017)

The way insurers lock out people with court convictions is bizarre (February 2016)

Criminal Convictions & Insurance – Briefing for Insurers (January 2016)

Written submission to the Financial Inclusion Commission (November 2014)

Time is Money – Financial responsibility after prison (with the Prison Reform Trust) (October 2010)

Ensuring Positive Customer Experiences of Buying Insurance Online (with ABI) (December 2009)

Unlocking Insurance Impact Report (January 2009)

Time served: unlocking insurance to help reintegrate offenders into society (in CII) (October 2008)

Report for the ABI Working Party on Access to Insurance (January 2008)

Insurance: Issues & Evidence (June 2008)

Insurance Case studies (June 2007)

Other useful publications

Insurers’ Approach to People with Convictions and Related Offences – An ABI Good Practice Guide (July 2019)

The missing piece in the financial inclusion debate? Improving access to household insurance (Financial Inclusion Commission, November 2017)

Access to Financial Services in the UK (FCA, May 2016)

For more information

  1. Practical self-help information for people with convictions on insurance – We have guidance on insurance on our information site
  2. Guidance for insurers – We have guidance for insurers
  3. Personal experiences – We have posts relating to insurance on our online magazine, theRecord
  4. Discuss this issue – Share your views and experiences on our forum.
  5. Project – Read more about our Unlocking Insurance project that finished in 2012
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