Looking back at 2019 – A month-by-month review of our work and criminal record developments

With the Christmas break almost upon us and 2019 coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on the last 12 months at Unlock and the developments relating to criminal records.

Once again it’s been an incredibly busy year for us, with lots of positive news and progress to report in terms of the charity itself:

  1. We’ve continued to expand the information, advice and support we provide to help people overcome the stigma of their convictions. We have some amazing case studies, including Brinley (“I successfully challenged an ineligible DBS check and kept my job”) and Davina (“I was accepted onto a nursing course despite my conviction”)
  2. We have yet again seen large numbers of people accessing our helpline and websites. Our helpline will have yet again dealt with around 8,000 enquiries this year – a phenomenal number given the size of the helpline team. We also piloted the use of web-chat, which we’re planning to make more use of in 2020.
  3. Our information site for people with criminal records has, with all the updates across the year, yet again had over 1 million visitors and our disclosure calculator has helped around 50,000 people work out when their convictions become spent.
  4. Our website for employers, Recruit!, has continued to be a vital source of guidance and resources for employers and organisations in helping them to deal with criminal records fairly.
  5. We advertised for new trustees to join our board and we’re looking forward to announcing the details of the new appointments early next year.

As you can see in the month-by-month highlights below, there’s also been some significant positive policy developments that we’ve played a part in.

Most notably, the Supreme Court ruled, in a case that we intervened in, that two aspects of the criminal records disclosure scheme are disproportionate and in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This was the first time in Unlock’s history that we’d intervened in a legal case, and we are incredibly grateful to all those who donated to help us cover our legal costs. We’re still awaiting a government response to the judgment and we are continuing to prioritise this as an area of work for us in 2020. We also saw a number of universities lead the way by signing the ‘Fair Chance for Students with Convictions’ pledge.

But it’s not all been positive. There continues to be new and extended policies and practices that treat people with convictions unfairly and punish people long after they’ve served their sentence. The number of criminal record checks is increasing, and we’ve been looking specifically at the issue of ineligible checks (which you’ll hear more about very soon).

All of this explains why we’ve just published our priorities for government in 2020, where we are calling on the government to commit to five priorities to bring about a fresh start for law-abiding people with criminal records.

And the London Bridge attack at the end of November brought into sharp focus the importance of the work that we do. Enabling people who have offended the chance to change and to move on positively is socially, economically and morally right. The aim of terrorism is to destroy our values and beliefs. We won’t allow these events to destroy our belief in the power of all people to do better.

This all means that, now more than ever, it’s vital that we continue to work hard to provide support and a voice for people with criminal records. So we look forward to yet another strong year in 2020, and we are grateful to those of you that continue to support our vital work.

On a practical note, our helpline will be closed for the Christmas holidays from 4pm on Friday 20th  December and will reopen at 10am on Thursday 2nd January 2019. Our information site has details on what to do if you have questions over the festive period.

In the meantime, on behalf of all the staff and the board of trustees, I would like to wish the people we help, our volunteers, supporters and funders a very merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.

All the best,

Christopher Stacey | Co-director of Unlock

Some key moments, month-by-month

January – We responded to the judgment of the Supreme Court on the criminal records disclosure regime. The charity provided an intervention to the court to highlight the unjust consequences of the current regime and the alternative, fairer systems available. We also published a personal response to the Supreme Court ruling

February – We were pleased to be able to share a short video that explains a little bit about Unlock, the work that we do and why it is so important in helping the millions of people in this country who have a criminal record.

March – Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Justice Select Committee, introduced a Westminster Hall debate on the disclosure of youth criminal records and he thanked Unlock and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice for the evidence we provided. As part of the inquiry, we had arranged a seminar for Committee members and people with convictions to meet and discuss the impact of disclosing criminal records from childhood. The debate was well informed and MPs highlighted the effects of disclosure on employment, education, housing, travel and insurance.

April – Following UCAS’ decision to remove the question about criminal convictions for all applicants, universities had to consider if, when and how to collect this information. UCAS still ask applicants to regulated programmes – for example medicine or teaching – to declare criminal records. Having worked with UCAS and universities for some time, we felt it was important to support universities to develop fair admissions policies for applicants with previous criminal records. We published a blog – University admissions: what’s changed? – detailing the work we had been doing in the last year or so, what we had learned so far and our plans for future work in this area.

MayBloomsbury Institute broke new ground with ban the box for staff and students, and we published a blog – Appointing a trustee with a criminal record: reflections of a successful applicant and charity – which was the lived experience of a charity working within the criminal justice system that was successful in getting a waiver from the Charity Commission for a trustee applicant that was “disqualified” because of their criminal record.

June – A report backed tax breaks to employers that recruit people with convictions. We also made some updates to the most popular page on our information site – travelling to the USA – by publishing some new information which help to work out whether they need a Visa.

July – We commented on the Ministry of Justice’s plans on criminal record reform and we published a report highlighting the ‘double discrimination’ faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic people with a criminal record. We also worked with NHS Employers on their new guidance on recruiting people with criminal records, which resulted in some important changes to the process which we set out here.

August – The Association of British Insurers (ABI) published updated guidance on how insurers should treat people with convictions. The guide, first published in 2011 and revised in 2014, was updated to reflect recommendations made by Unlock. We also worked with The Key (an organisation that provides tools and services to education leaders) on their new guidance on asking about criminal records. Many schools ask about criminal records on application forms and ask candidates to bring a written disclosure which may be discussed at interview. The Key received legal advice that this is likely to be considered excessive data collection, as successful candidates will be required to undergo DBS checks. Their advice now is that school recruiters should NOT ask applicants to disclose at any stage before an offer is made. In essence, schools should follow Ban the Box principles. Following an offer, the preferred candidate should complete the relevant level of DBS check and any disclosure should form the basis of a discussion before a final decision is made. In collaboration with Unlock, The Key have published detailed guidance on how to go about discussing a disclosure with a candidate.

September – We published a policy briefing which sets out the concerns that Unlock has about the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) in relation to those EU nationals in the UK that have a criminal record. Our aim is to help secure the rights of EU nationals who are eligible for settled status in the UK by ensuring that a criminal record does not unfairly exclude them. The briefing aims to inform the ongoing work that the Home Office and other key stakeholders are doing on the process to better understand the policy and to improve practice.

October – As part of our Unlocking students with conviction project, we announced that ten UK universities lead the way in helping people with convictions access higher education by signing the ‘Fair Chance for Students with Convictions’ pledge. Universities that have signed the pledge include University of Nottingham, University of Liverpool, Birkbeck, University of London, University of Essex, University of Kent, University of Lincoln, University of the West of England, Bristol, London Metropolitan University, Bloomsbury Institute and University of Southampton. To ensure applicants are aware of the commitment, signatories will be asked to include a link to the pledge in their admissions policy going forward. A toolkit to help universities make admissions fair was also published.

November –We were delighted that one of Unlock’s long-standing helpline volunteers, Simon, was shortlisted for the Helpline Partnership’s ‘Helpline Volunteer of the Year’ award. On hearing the news, Simon said: “I’m delighted to have been shortlisted for the Helpline Partnership ‘Volunteer of the year’ award. As much as this is recognition that the work I do for Unlock is truly appreciated, what I have given to Unlock is a moot point in comparison to what they have done for me.”

December – As a charity set up by people with criminal records, Unlock is committed to fair recruitment and the inclusion of people with lived experience of the criminal justice system. Our recruitment policy has helped us do that but we believe every organisation should regularly review their policies and practices to make sure they’re as effective as they can be, so we reviewed our policy and made some improvements. We also put out a statement on the London Bridge attack. Enabling people who have offended the chance to change and to move on positively is socially, economically and morally right. The aim of terrorism is to destroy our values and beliefs. We won’t allow these events to destroy our belief in the power of all people to do better. And following the general election, we published our priorities for government in 2020, where we are calling on the government to commit to five priorities to bring about a fresh start for law-abiding people with criminal records.

Written by Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock

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