A momentous day for tens of thousands of people with old and minor criminal records

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Today is a momentous day for tens of thousands of people with old and minor criminal records. 

The stigma and embarrassment of a criminal record means many people simply don’t apply for jobs or voluntary roles that would require them to disclose their old and minor convictions or cautions. It’s a toxic form of punishment to keep punishing people forever and far too people many are unnecessarily anchored to their past as a result.  

That’s why today is such a big day. Changes to the law have come into effect, meaning tens of thousands of people every year will no longer have their old and minor criminal records show up when they apply for jobs or voluntary roles that involve standard or enhanced DBS checks . 

There are two main changes to what convictions and cautions are removed from standard and enhanced DBS checks. These are referred to as the filtering rules. 

The first change is that childhood cautions will no longer be automatically disclosed. Up until now, about 25,000 childhood cautions were disclosed every year, so this change will help thousands of people move on from minor things they did when they were a child.  

The second change is that a so-called ‘multiple conviction rule’ is being abolished. This arbitrary rule had meant that people with more than one conviction on their record had them all disclosed, no matter what the offences were, and no matter how long ago they were, simply because there was more than one. From the experience of Unlock’s helpline, we know this rule had meant that lots of people with minor convictions from decades ago were still finding them showing up on their check. According to Home Office data, these changes will mean around 45,000 people a year will now have a clear standard or enhanced DBS check. But this estimate is based on people that had previously applied for checks – and given we know many people are simply put off applying through fear and embarrassment, the number that will benefit from these changes will be even higher still.  

How we got here

It’s been a long road to get to this point. I was part of an independent panel that was set up back in 2010 to advise the Home Secretary on this issue, and the system of filtering that was brought in in 2013 made a difference to a lot of people, but we could see that there were problems, which is why we set about advocating for further change. When it was clear the government were resisting that, it took a number of legal challenges to get them to listen. 

And being honest, it is hard to give the government much credit for bringing forward these changes. They have contested the legal cases all the way up to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. Unlock supported those various legal challenges, and formally intervened in the Supreme Court for the first time in our history, because of the significance of the case. The result was a landmark ruling against the government. Even then, it’s taken the government nearly two years to get to this point of actually making the changes.  

But we are where we are, and I’m genuinely delighted for the thousands of people that have been in contact with us over the years waiting for changes like this to happen. It’s difficult to do justice to the struggles, shame and stigma that they have feltFinally, today is the day when that injustice ends and many thousands of people will be free of the stigma of their past. For every one of you that benefits from today’s changes, I want to thank you for all of the support you have given to Unlock’s work on this over the years.  

Unlock’s guidance for individuals and employers

The changes being made today are actually quite simple, but the rules around what gets disclosed on checks are still quite complicated, so it’s important that you find out what these changes mean for you. We’ve been busy working on updating our guidance for individuals and employersand that is all available from this page of our website. You can:

The need for further reform

But there’s still a lot more to do. Despite today’s changes, we are still left with a criminal records system where many people with old and minor criminal records are shut out of jobs that they are qualified to do because of a mistake they made years ago. For example, Unlock research found that over a five year period, 380,000 checks contained childhood convictions, with nearly 3,000 checks including convictions from children aged just ten. Many of these childhood convictions will continue to be disclosed forever, despite today’s changes.  

At a time when we’re facing significant economic uncertainty, people with criminal records are finding it harder than ever to find work. The government must commit to a wider review of the criminal records disclosure system to ensure all law-abiding people with criminal records are able to move on into employment and contribute to our economic recovery. 

That’s why Unlock is continuing to call for a root and branch review of the criminal records system to reduce the length of time a record is revealed. Everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential and make a positive contribution to society. Everyone deserves the chance to build a good life. The #FairChecks site is a crucial way for you to show your MP that you support reform of the criminal record disclosure system. 

 

Written by Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock 

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