UNLOCKing Employment - Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
Please note, this section relates to UNLOCK's policy & research work. If you are seeking information and advice, please click here.
On this page:
- Latest developments
- Summary of the case for reform
- Government position
- Support for reform
- UNLOCK's position
- Useful documents
1. Objective Back to top
That the Government urgently amends the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
2. Latest developments Back to top
Read here the latest news links on the ROA on our delicious account.
February 2013 - Delays to reforms to the ROA
We're disappointed to announce that we've received notification from the Government that the changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, due to come into force in Spring 2013, have been delayed. The Ministry of Justice provided us with the following:
"As you know, the commencement of the reforms are dependent on the necessary system changes being in place so that basic disclosure certificates for England and Wales will reflect the new rehabilitation periods. We had been aiming to commence the reforms by April 2013, however, it will not be possible to achieve the necessary system changes by that date and we are now looking at commencement in November."
We know from the hundreds of enquiries we've had from people with convictions over the last couple of months how critical these reforms are; they will have a significant and positive difference on thousands of people who struggle to move on with their lives.
We continue to urge the government to introduce the reforms as soon as possible, and we encourage anybody who is affected by these delays to write to their MP and ask for their support in helping to speed up the process. However, it has been made clear to us that Ministers remain keen to introduce the reforms, and that the reasons behind the delay lay at a technical/operational level.
December 2012 - Brief guide on the changes
In preparation for the changes that are planned in Spring 2013, we've produced a brief guide on the changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 - download 'Is it spent now?'
April 2012 - ROA changes pass through Parliament and receive Royal Assent
We're pleased to announce that the LASPO Bill, which contained changes to the ROA, has received Royal Assent.
However, please note that changes to the ROA will not come into force until the relevant provisions are "commenced". This is expected to be Spring 2013.
The relevant legislation can be viewed here (see sections 139-141). This contains the details of the changes. We will be providing practical information on the impact of the changes in the near future.
We have also copied below an official Ministry of Justice communication on the changes:
"The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) is designed to improve the chances of offenders being fully rehabilitated into society by removing some of the barriers that they face. It seeks to achieve this whilst still having regard to public protection.
Under the ROA, following a specified period of time which varies according to the disposal administered or sentence passed, all cautions and convictions (except those resulting in prison sentences of over 30 months under the current law) are regarded as ‘spent’. Where a caution or conviction has become spent, the offender is treated as rehabilitated in respect of that offence and is not obliged to declare it for most purposes, for example, when applying for employment or insurance. For persons under 18 when convicted, the rehabilitation periods are generally halved so the offence is ‘spent’ more quickly.
The Government has, through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, introduced reforms to the ROA. The amendments extend the scope of the ROA so that custodial sentences of up to and including four years in length can become spent, and in most cases reduce the time before which convictions can become spent. The majority of sentences and out of court disposals for young people will also have the same or shorter rehabilitation periods than at present. The reforms would also introduce ‘buffer’ periods, where appropriate, which mean that the rehabilitation period comprises the length of the sentence plus an additional period. For example, a two year custodial sentence imposed on an adult will have a four year buffer period, making the total rehabilitation period six years. The rehabilitation periods are linked, as now, to the disposal given rather than the type of offence committed as the disposal reflects the seriousness of the offender behaviour.
The Government believes that these amendments will achieve a proportionate and relevant balance towards improving the chances of offenders being fully rehabilitated into society. The necessary changes to systems and processes to deliver the reforms are expected to be in place by Spring 2013 and it is only then that the changes to the scheme can be commenced. In the meantime, the current law will remain in force.
We will, of course, be revising the guidance on the Act to take account of the reforms and this will also need to be in place before the provisions are commenced. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the ROA and the impact these changes have on ex-offenders and their ability to secure employment.
It is important to emphasise that an employer or other body is only entitled to a standard or enhanced criminal records check provided by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) in respect of an individual, where that individual is engaged in an activity listed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Exceptions) Order 1975 (the ‘Exceptions Order’). The Exceptions Order lists exceptions to the ROA in recognition that there are certain activities for which a person’s full criminal record history is relevant. The Government’s amendments to the ROA make no changes to the Exceptions Order.
Inclusions in the Exceptions Order are made following careful consideration of the risks associated with a particular activity. There must be compelling evidence that there exists an exceptional opportunity for employees or people involved within that activity to cause harm to the public or that there is a real risk to children, vulnerable individuals or some other particularly sensitive area of work.
It is also important to be clear that even where employers are entitled to ask for a criminal records check, knowledge of a conviction, spent or unspent, should not act as an automatic barrier to employment. Information about convictions is only part of a wide range of information available to employers, for example references, academic achievements, previous employment.
The Government has always encouraged employers to take a balanced approach when considering the suitability of ex-offenders for employment, having regard to such factors as:
- the person’s age at the time of the offence;
- how long ago the offence took place;
- whether it was an isolated offence or part of a pattern of offending;
- the nature of the offence;
- its relevance to the application or post in question; and
- what else is known about the person’s conduct before or since the offence"
February 2012 (2) - Further amendments put forward by Lord Dholakia
As of the 7th February, the LASPO Bill is currently at House of Lords Committee Stage.
Today UNLOCK met with Lord Dholakia to discuss the amendments introduced by the Government. As the Bill currently stands, sentences over 4 years cannot become spent and sentences from 30 months to 4 years attract a 7 year disclosure period.
Lord Dholakia is to table further amendments in response: 185FA, 185FB, 185FC, 186FD. The effect of these will be to reduce the disclosure period for sentences between 30 months and 4 years to 4 years, and to increase the maximum sentence length where a conviction may become spent from 4 to 10 years with a disclosure period of 7 years. It is anticipated that they will be debated before the House is in recess (16 - 28 February).
February 2012 (1) - Amendments put forward by Government
The Government has tabled amendments to the ROA. These are contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill - click here to see the amendments put forward on the 2nd February
We issued a press release in response to Government proposals to reform the ROA - Changes to rehabilitation laws suggest Government ‘revolution’ will fail those on longer sentences
The proposed changes
Under the current legislation, people with a criminal record have the right not to disclose their offence after the following periods:
- Offences resulting in fines do not have to be disclosed after five years.
- Offences resulting in prison sentences of six months or less do not have to be disclosed after seven years.
- Offences resulting in prison sentences of two-and-a-half years do not have to be disclosed after 10 years.
- Offences resulting in prison sentences of more than 30 months are never spent.
For those under 18, the rehabilitation periods above are halved.
Proposed reforms to the Act
Under the amended legislation, rehabilitation periods would change as follows:
- Offences resulting in fines would not have to be disclosed after one year
- Offences resulting in prison sentences of six months or less would not have to be disclosed after two years.
- Offences resulting in prison sentences of six months to 30 months would not have to be disclosed after four years.
- Offences resulting in prison sentences of 30 months to four years would not have to be disclosed after seven years.
- Offences over four years are never spent.
Please note, however, that the time periods in these amendments would not start until a sentence is finished (including time spent on licence). For example, for somebody who is sentenced to four years in prison in 2012, they would have to declare their convictions for a eleven years from date of conviction (until 2023), because the end of the sentence is 4 years, plus a further 7 years. Time periods for those under 18 are still halved.
Lord Dholakia’s Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill passed through Committee Stage in the House of Lords. Hansard link. The Bill passed with a slight amendment which corrected a drafting error. It will now move to report stage for further examination. Latest Bill.
Committee stage date set for ROA Amendment Bill 2010 on 15th July 2011
Following UNLOCK’s meeting with Lord Dholakia last week, he has today advised us that he has accepted a date offered by the Chief Whip’s office to take his Bill to Committee Stage.
Despite assurances given by Lord McNally on 21 January 2011 requesting Lord Dholakia “leave his Bill in abeyance” promising full involvement in proposals that would be brought forward as a matter or urgency, little has happened.
As we noted recently, there was no mention of ROA reform in the Government’s Green Paper response despite prior assurances that there would be. Both Lord Dholakia and UNLOCK are anticipating that the legislative vehicle for implementing ROA reform will be the Freedoms Bill but in the meantime, and in the absence of any other information emanating from either MoJ or the Home Office, Lord Dholakia’s Bill will no longer be held in abeyance.
Ministry of Justice - Official Statement
"Consultation on the Green Paper, ‘Breaking the Cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders’ concluded on 4 March and a Government response was published on 21 June. This response outlined the content of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which does not include reform of the ROA. However, responses on reform to the ROA were broadly supportive and the Government is still committed to introducing reform to the ROA, along the lines outlined in the Green Paper. We are still considering what the content of that reform should be and what might be the most appropriate legislative vehicle for taking this forward. There are as yet no timescales for this but we will be contacting stakeholders and interested parties detailing next steps in due course."
Is ROA reform still coming? (Taken from July's issue of The Record)
When the Ministry of Justice published Breaking the Cycle, the Government’s Green Paper Consultation, we welcomed many of the proposals made in the ninety-two page tome. Government consultation events had been held nationwide. The paper was a breath of fresh air recognising as it did the importance of rehabilitation – not just punishment. At last, a Government whose policy was going to be evidence based and forward thinking, representing, as Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told us, a real “rehabilitation revolution”.
This was our opportunity to press once again for a long overdue and major reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and disclosure of criminal convictions, which had been successfully sidelined by the previous government since the 2002 Breaking the Circle report.
How disappointing then to see a paltry thirteen page response which had been cut to within an inch of its life from what, we were assured would address many of our recommendations. It would seem that Ken Clarke’s vision for the revolution is not shared by certain colleagues, and the red-tops continue to dictate policy to Number 10. Challenged on its content, the Ministry’s response was brief (see right).
Members will know that we have been working behind the scenes to champion reform and we have been assured that this does remain firmly on the Government’s agenda within this Parliament.
ROA reform won’t go away; we will keep up the pressure and invite you to do the same via your own MP. Meanwhile Lord Dholakia’s Private Member’s Bill to reduce disclosure periods is still alive and, should the Government renege on its promise to incorporate it into reform very soon, will doubtless be kicking.
4 March - UNLOCK publish response to the Breaking the Cycle consultation, setting out how we think the ROA should be reformed
3 March - 8 UNLOCK members meet with Ministry of Justice officials responsible for the ROA to discuss how they think the Act should be reformed
21 January - On the 21st January the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2010 received its second reading in the House of Lords. The Bill had cross-party support' and has been officially passed on to Committee Stage. UNLOCK received a number of mentions during the debate, including personal mention of Bobby Cummines (for his OBE) and Julie Harmsworth (for her work with Lord Dholakia on the Bill itself).
Lord McNally, Minister of Justice, stated "I would like the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to leave his Bill in abeyance because we are working urgently on the issue and will be introducing legislation. I also promise my noble friend that he will be fully involvement in our discussions so that when we bring forward proposals they will very much reflect the content and the spirit of the legislation that he has put before the House today."
This effectively means that the Government will be looking to set out in a draft Bill (in their response to the responses they receive from the Breaking the Cycle consultation) their planned changes, in consultation with Lord Dholakia.
As a result, whilst the Amendment Bill remains in the Lords awaiting Committee Stage, a date is unlikely to be set whilst the Government take forward their own proposals which they have agreed with include provisions to reform the Act.
To read a full transcript of the debate, click here. You can also watch the debate on Parliament website.
December - The Ministry of Justice have launched their Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle. This looks at various issues within the Criminal Justice System, but importantly has a specific section on reforming the ROA. For more details on this, and how to get involved, click here.
We have also launched our own consultation to gather views and thoughts on how the ROA could be reformed. Visit here for more details on how to get involved.
Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat) – “To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what recent representations he has received on the process by which convictions become spent.”
Crispin Blunt (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Prisons and Probation), Justice; Reigate, Conservative) – “The process by which convictions become spent is governed by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974; I have met groups, such as Nacro and Unlock, who have an interest in this Act. The Ministry of Justice is undertaking a comprehensive assessment of sentencing and rehabilitation policies, which will involve consideration of the implications for the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.”
To visit the source of this question (Theyworkforyou), click here.
At the same time, an UNLOCK member has written a detailed letter to Lord McNally (House of Lord Peer and Minister of State for Justice), putting forward the difficulties that the current ROA causes and why reform is so badly needed.
The 29th June 2010 marked the first reading in the House of Lords of the ROA (Amendment) Bill. Although this progressed through the Lords in the last session, because of the change in government it has had to be re-introduced.
To track the progress of the Bill, you can bookmark the dedicated page on the Parliament website, which contains details of the last and next event, as well as a latest copy of the Bill and other relevant documents. You can also set up RSS feeds or sign up to receive email updates on this page.
A Private Members Bill was introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Dholakia on the 19th November 2009.
The Second Reading of the Bill took place in the House of Lords on the 11th December 2009, where the principles of the Bill were discussed by House of Lords peers, including UNLOCK's President Lord Ramsbotham and UNLOCK Patron Baroness Helena Kennedy. To view the Hansard transcript of the debate, click here. You can also, for a short period of time, watch the debate on the parliamentlive.tv website.
UNLOCK put together a Briefing Paper for the Second Reading, which was based on the consultation that UNLOCK carried out with its members in the short space of time after the Bill was first introduced in Parliament.
The Briefing Paper is only the first step. We have made some rather innovative proposals in the paper, trying to cover specifically the topic of amending the disclosure periods, but also giving considering to the wider context of the ROA as a whole, including the Exceptions Order and CRB checks. We need your comments on this, as well as the proposed Amendment itself.
During the Second Reading, Lord David Ramsbotham, UNLOCK’s President, and Baroness Helena Kennedy, a Patron of UNLOCK, spoke in the House of Lords. You can read the Hansard transcript of the discussion or watch a video of the discussion on the parliamentlive.tv website. In short, the Bill was passed to Committee Stage. However, the Government appeared to be unwilling to commit to the Amendment, arguing that there needed to be a deeper review into the ROA in the context of recent developments in related areas (such as the introduction of the Independent Safeguarding Authority). Of course, as Lord Dholakia stated in the House, this argument is weak, given that recent changes only effect exceptions to the ROA, and not the time periods themselves, which is all this Amendment is targeted at changing.
The Committee Stage took place on the 21st January 2010. You can watch the committee stage on the BBC's Democracy Live website or read the Hansard transcript of the debate.
Two significant amendments were tabled by Lord Dholakia at this stage - the explicit inclusion of IPP prisoners in the excluded category, and the removal of subsection 9A, which had previously allowed for a court to disapply the protections of the ROA to individuals who they felt post a risk of serious harm.
The Bill has now passed through the Committe Stage and the Report Stage. The Third reading - the final chance for the Lords to change the Bill - took place on 16 March and no amendments were made. The Bill now goes to the Commons for its consideration.
Given the short time scale until a General Election, it is highly unlikely that it will proceed much further before the election. However, that is not the end of the Bill. Depending on the outcome of the election, the Bill could be re-introduced into the Lords.
We are grateful for the contributions that UNLOCK members, and others, have made so far, but would also welcome your continued support as this Bill progresses through Parliament. Given that reform of the ROA would have such a dramatic impact on those people with past convictions, it is absolutely crucial that we are able to draw on the support of UNLOCK members in helping us to try and achieve change that would make a real difference to people’s lives. Therefore, the initial consultation that UNLOCK initiated at the end of November is still open and we would very much value your detailed thoughts and comments. Email email@example.com with your comments and questions.
3. Summary of the case for reform Back to top
The Government effectively summed up the case for reform when launching the review of the Act in 1999.
“The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is now 25 years old. The sentencing framework and its application has changed considerably since 1974. The Act is criticised for being cumbersome, anachronistic, and ineffective in its primary aim of reducing offending by helping those with criminal convictions who stay 'straight' to leave their offending past behind. Its approach has meant that valid concerns about the need for disclosure of previous convictions in certain sensitive areas of employment have led to an ever increasing number of exceptions to its main provisions. The Government is already committed to reviewing the rehabilitation periods in the Act… It believes that the time is now right for a fundamental review of the Act as a whole, rather than looking at just a part of it.”
In 2003 the Government accepted the majority of the recommendations of the review. However, there has been no action since. Meanwhile, employment prospects for people with past convictions have deteriorated:
- The list of roles and professions exempted from the Act has grown significantly over the last 35 years
- The number criminal record checks has nearly tripled from 1.4m in 2002-03 to 3.85m in 2008-09
- The Independent Safeguarding Authority has been established, monitoring 11.3 million people
4. Government position Back to top
The government has been subjected to regular parliamentary questions asking when progress will be made. However the responses remain disappointing.
“The Government committed to reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in 2003, following the recommendations set out in the report "Breaking the Circle". We have since had to review the position in the light of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, based on the recommendations of the Bichard report, which made significant changes to the disclosure landscape. While the Government remain committed to reform, no timescale for this has yet been set.”
“On the Private Member's Bill on rehabilitation of offenders, I get into enough trouble as it is. If I stood here and said, "Yes, the Government will support it", I would be terribly told off, so I had better not say anything at the moment. However, I await with interest to see how that goes.”
5. Support for reform Back to top
The case for urgent reform has extremely broad-based support. UNLOCK was a member of the advisory group which produced Breaking the Circle, along with representatives of other charities, industry, police, probation, judiciary, government departments and local government.
“The Home Office acknowledged the failure of the ROA and the need for its reform, yet…the Act remains unchanged. Society is ill-served through the exclusion of many people who pose no such threat, who have reformed, and who wish to contribute as tax-paying, law-abiding members of society…Consistent failure to effect reform leaves many thousands of people in positions where they continue to serve a sentence through exclusion and discrimination long after paying the penalty for their original crime.”
Julie Harmswoth, Deputy Chief Executive, UNLOCK, Submission to RSA Prison Network October 2008
“The reforms to which the Government committed themselves in 2003 would allow many more people with criminal records to start again with a clean slate. They would thereby reduce the risk of further offending by former offenders excluded from the job market. I urge the Minister to restate the Government's commitment to implement these changes, and to do so urgently."
Lord Dholakia, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader in the House of Lords - HL Deb, 6 December 2006, c1227
“In the current climate of crisis in our prison service, I would have thought that cutting the numbers that reoffend would make a significant difference to an already over-stretched system. I believe that the report Breaking the Circle made recommendations that merited further serious consideration."
Baroness Seccombe, Conservative Deputy Chief Whip, HL Deb, 6 December 2006, c1232
“The more one realises that the present Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is not fit for purpose, which is a considerable concern to all those involved in the resettlement process.”
Lord Ramsbotham, President of UNLOCK & Former Chief Inspector of Prisons - HL Deb, 12 June 2007, c1583
“Ever since the “Breaking the Circle” consultation in 2001—which I understand was generally welcomed—there has been no effort to amend that Act… We are always being told that there is no legislative opportunity. At the moment it undoubtedly causes people to fall into a difficult situation… It certainly leads to further offending and is not calibrated correctly.”
Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust - Coroners & Justice Bill Committee, 5 February 2009
“I would like, very briefly and very strongly, to support Juliet Lyon’s comments that the Government agreement in 2003 to the case for reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is now more urgent than ever….The Government accepted the case for reform five years ago. It is time, in our view, for the legislation to be included in the Bill.”
Paul Cavadino, Chief Executive of Nacro - Coroners & Justice Bill Committee, 5 February 2009
“I would respectfully agree that the time may well have come to review the accretions which there have been to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order.”
Rt. Hon Lord Justice Carnwath, Lord Justice of Appeal – Court of Appeal  EWCA Civ 1079
"I am fed up with puncture-repair kits. What's needed is a new tyre."
Bobby Cummines, Chief Executive UNLOCK, Independent, 2 July 2002
6. UNLOCK's position Back to top
As a result of consultation with UNLOCK members, we put together a Briefing Paper for the Second Reading of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill when the Bill was in the House of Lords in late 2009. This set out to reflect the constructive critique of the Bill offered by UNLOCK members. It was intended to inform the second reading of the Bill.
As a result of the Governments Breaking the Cycle consultation, which discussed reform of the ROA, UNLOCK published a response to the Breaking the Cycle consultation, setting out how we think the ROA should be reformed, incorporating the wealth of responses we received from members as part of the consultation we launched in December 2010.
In addition, in March 2011, before the close of the MoJ consultation, we arranged for 8 members to meet with the MoJ at their headquarters in London to discuss how the ROA should be reformed. We want to thank all of those that attended this meeting, and apologise to those who we were unable to bring along, purely due to limited numbers. The MoJ have provided us with their thoughts on how the meeting went, what they got out of it etc, which is available below:
"We recently met a group of UNLOCK members to discuss possible reform of the ROA, and the problems the current ROA has created for them.
There is already consensus amongst many that the ROA is outdated, and doesn’t quite do the job it was originally supposed to. However actually meeting people who it is having an adverse effect on was enlightening, and hearing their ideas for how it might be reformed was helpful.
The eloquence and understanding of the ROA from those UNLOCK members who attended was noteworthy, although it did not come as a surprise to those of us who realise that the distinction between offenders and non-offenders, them and us, is artificial, and unhelpful.
We often speak about the need to engage those on the front line, those who are actually affected by the policies we create from Whitehall. This meeting proved how useful this can actually be – who knows more about the policy than those who are most directly affected. I hope this will be the first of many similar meetings – an ‘ROA users group’ if you will.
Future meetings would probably benefit from a tighter area of discussion, perhaps around a particular theme. I expect that of particular importance for the future might be discussions on how guidance to the ROA can be better developed, to ensure that employers, insurers, offenders and other end-users of the ROA have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities."
Jamie Rubbi-Clarke, Policy Advisor, ROA
7. Useful documents Back to top
Support for reform
Exceptions to the ROA
- UNLOCK's Response to the Ministry of Justice's Claims Management Regulator (CMR) on applying to become exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
- Ministry of Justice - Summary of responses to CMR request for exemption from the ROA (1974)