Case of Ian

Ian started work with his professional services firm in the early 1990s back when few employers asked about criminal records. Over the years he developed his skills and was now responsible for managing the office and billing. Ian planned to work there until retirement.

In 2019, the firm introduced new HR systems and retrospectively carried out basic DBS checks on all staff. Ian had been sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in the 1980s for his involvement in an armed robbery. As the law stands, his conviction can never become spent. Ian explained this to his employer and hoped his 25 years of service and exemplary work record would stand him in good stead. Ian’s conviction does not legally prevent him from doing his work, and he is not a danger to staff or clients. There are no online news stories about it and it would be impossible for a client or other staff member to find the information.

Despite this, the firm decided that they had to let Ian go – they said they couldn’t risk anyone finding out an employee had an unspent conviction.

Ian said:

The people that made the decision to terminate my employment were people I’d known for 25 years; I didn’t just think of them as my employers but also as friends. I was obviously nervous about disclosing my conviction to them and I honestly thought that they’d use my 25 years of work experience to make a decision rather than something that happened 31 years ago when I was a very different person. I’m now claiming benefits while I look for a new job instead of paying tax on a good salary.

Commenting on Ian’s experience, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

This shocking decision shows just how difficult employers find dealing with criminal records information. Rather than carry out a risk assessment it’s often easier to simply reject or dismiss someone. Ian had done everything possible to show he was rehabilitated – but the law won’t let him move on. This needs to change and that’s why we continue to campaign for reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

Lessons from this case

Unlock has long campaigned for fundamental changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), the legislation that governs the disclosure of criminal records to employers, educational institutions, insurers and housing providers. Changes implemented in 2014 (through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012) focused mainly on reducing rehabilitation periods.

Around 9000 people a year receive a sentence of more than four years. As the law stands, these can never become spent meaning people will have to declare them for the rest of their life – on job applications, for housing or insurance. An unspent conviction is a lifelong barrier to moving on.

We think this should change and that’s we we’re campaigning for ROA reform. As part of our campaign, we use case studies to show why reform is necessary to help law abiding people with convictions move on.

Notes about this case

  1. This case relates to Unlock’s policy work on ROA reform
  2. Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
  3. Other policy cases are listed here.
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