Almost three-quarters of national companies continue to ask about criminal records at job application stage, new research shows

Unlock has today published new research that shows the vast majority of national companies continuing to have criminal record declarations as a core part of their initial job application forms.

Marking the 5-year anniversary of the Ban the Box campaign, the findings reveal the extent to which national employers have failed to recognise the negative consequences of criminal record tick-boxes on application forms.

 

Commenting on the report, A question of fairness, co-director of Unlock Christopher Stacey said:

“We’re proud to have co-founded the Ban the Box campaign and it’s really positive that over 110 companies – including Barclays, Boots, the Civil Service, and Virgin Trains – have signed up so far, but this new research shows that it remains the case that asking about criminal records at application stage is the default approach for almost three-quarters of national, big name companies. It’s also worrying that around 1 in 5 of them are asking for information they are not legally entitled to.

 

“These findings are unsurprising – employers are asking about criminal records at application stage as a way of deselecting applicants. We know this approach has a chilling effect on talented applicants with a criminal record, many of whom never apply because they think they don’t stand a chance. In fact, evidence from employers who do recruit people with criminal records shows that they make reliable, hardworking and loyal employees. Employers who are open about their inclusive recruitment practices report a positive impact on their reputation.

 

“Yet the numbers of employers removing criminal record questions from their application forms is not increasing fast enough. Earlier this month Unlock published new guidance for employers which showed that collecting criminal records data at the job application stage is unlikely to be compliant with the GDPR and data protection legislation. Government, business and charities need to seriously consider how to accelerate the changes in employer behaviour that Ban the Box encourages. Unless significant progress is made, increasingly it seems that the only way to make sure employers remove the tick-box is by looking to put Ban the Box on a statutory footing.”

 

Responding to the findings, Jessica Rose, Ban the Box campaign manager at Business in the Community, said:

“Unlock’s work to unearth the recruitment practices of some of the country’s biggest private sector employers paints a stark picture of confusion and inconsistency when it comes to managing risk around criminal convictions. This results in people being unfairly excluded from work and many more believing that no one is willing to give them a chance. Employers need to grasp the nettle and implement Ban the Box, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it will benefit their businesses and their communities.

 

“Some of the employers cited in this report already work with Business in the Community and other charities to support individuals into employment. This should give them the positive evidence they need to make the business case for changing their mainstream practices. We want to work with these businesses, alongside Unlock, to support them to put robust, fair and inclusive practices into place.”

 

We surveyed 80 large, national employers across eight sectors – supermarkets, retail, hotels, food and drink, construction, car manufacturing, utilities and communications and found that:

  1. 77 out of 80 employers had online application forms.
  2. Of those 77, 54 employers (70%) asked about criminal records on their application form.
  3. 80% of employers who asked about criminal records provided no guidance to applicants.
  4. 22% of employers asked about criminal records in a way that was either potentially unlawful or misleading. 
  5. Collecting criminal records data at application stage is unlikely to be compliant with data protection legislation.
  6. None of the employers surveyed provided information to applicants on why they collect criminal records data, or for how long it will be retained. Under the GDPR, employers who fail to provide this information are likely to be in breach of the law.
  7. None of the construction companies and only around half the car manufacturers in our survey asked about criminal records at application stage.

 

The findings of this report show that there is still a long way to go in encouraging employers to stop asking about criminal records on application forms. In the conclusion we explore the broader implications of this report, but to achieve a fundamental shift in recruitment practice and seeing Ban the Box as business-as-usual, we believe there are steps that both government and employers should take. That is why we make a number of recommendations to both government and employers, which can be found on pages 4 and 5 of the report.

 

Notes

  1. Unlock is an independent, award-winning national charity that provides a voice and support for people with convictions who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.
  2. There are over 11 million people in the UK that have a criminal record.
  3. The report can be downloaded here. A summary of the report can be downloaded here. The full list of employers we surveyed, along with the questions they ask, can be found in the Annex.
  4. The report has been produced as part of Unlock’s Fair Access to Employment project, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
  5. Unlock runs the website Recruit! – providing advice and support for employers on recruiting people with convictions and dealing with criminal records fairly. Employers looking for further advice about this guidance can contact recruit@unlock.org.uk.
  6. For employers that want to sign up as a Ban the Box employer, please see bitc.org.uk/banthebox.

 

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