December 2020 – We published our full response to the sentencing White Paper, arguing the proposed reforms don’t go far enough

October 2020 – Policy Officer Sam Doohan blogged about what the changes proposed in the sentencing White Paper would mean – and why they don’t go far enough

September 2020 – We responded to planned changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), introduced as part of the sentencing White Paper

July 2020 – We published an updated briefing on reforming the criminal records disclosure regime

July 2020 – The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, has said that he is preparing a policy that looks to make changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA). The sentencing White Paper later this year will have further proposals for reform. We are engaging with the Ministry of Justice on this work and we need your help. We particularly want to hear from people whose convictions can never become spent because they have a sentence of over 4 years in prison. Find out more below.

January 2020 – We’ve launched the #FairChecks movement to push for a fresh start for the criminal records regime. The #FairChecks movement is calling for the government to launch a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records to reduce the length of time a record is revealed.

July 2019 – Unlock welcomes and supports plans by the Justice Secretary to make changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Lord Ramsbotham has introduced a Criminal Records Bill proposing shorter disclosure periods. Further progress is pending, depending on government support.

For more latest news, you can:

  1. click here for a full list of news posts
  2. sign up our mailing list to receive updates by email
  3. follow the latest on Twitter using the hashtag #roareform

The problem

Unlock has long campaigned for fundamental changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), which is the principal legislation that governs the disclosure of criminal records to employers, educational institutions, insurers and housing providers. The current law means:

  • Rehabilitation periods are too long: rehabilitation periods start at the end of a sentence, meaning that even those who can become legally rehabilitated may have a lengthy gap in their work history, which can be as damaging as disclosing a criminal record.
  • Some convictions can never become spent: More than 8000 people every year receive sentences that mean they can never be legally rehabilitated.
  • Rehabilitation periods are incoherent: for example, an 8-month prison sentence for ABH becomes spent before a fine and penalty points for speeding.
  • There is no legal protection for spent convictions: rehabilitated people are powerless to prevent employers, housing providers and others using spent convictions to exclude them.

It is time the government committed to fundamental reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, ensuring that more people benefit, sooner, and that the legislation effectively protects against discrimination.

Changes we are calling for

  • All convictions to be capable of becoming spent
  • Amend anomalies in rehabilitation periods
  • Introduce a tribunal process
  • Reduce rehabilitation periods

The table below sets out current disclosure periods alongside those proposed in Lord Ramsbotham’s Criminal Records Bill.

For more information, read our briefing on ROA reform.

What we’re doing

We are supporting Lord Ramsbotham’s Private Members’ Bill.

We are building on the original campaign that we had to reform the ROA.

The #FairChecks movement pushes for reform of criminal record checks – sign up and support us.

Case studies

Case of Amir – never spent conviction as a young adult

Case of Ian – never spent conviction from 31 years ago led to dismissal

Case of Lauren – consecutive sentences add up to a conviction that can never be spent

Do you have a conviction that can never become spent?

More than 8000 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.

As part of our campaign for change, we use case studies to show why reform is necessary to help law abiding people with convictions move on.

What we need from you

If you have a conviction that can never become spent (i.e. a prison sentence of over 4 years), please contact us at using the subject header ‘Call for evidence: ROA reform’. Please include:

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • Contact details (email and/or telephone) and how you’d like us to contact you
  • The details of your conviction/s including dates and a DBS certificate if you have one
  • The difficulties you’ve faced, recently or in the past, as a result of your criminal record not becoming spent
  • If you would be willing to contribute to any media coverage on this issue in future (this is for our reference, we won’t share your details without consent)

Any information you provide will be kept in line with our confidentiality policy. Any personal information provided to us will not be shared externally without your consent.

Find out more about how we handle your data.

Useful links, resources and publications

Briefing – Reform of the criminal records disclosure regime (July 2020)

Our original campaign – what we achieved

The rationale behind the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Andrew Henley, 2020)

‘Debt to society’ or ‘moral mortgage’? Criminal records and the unintended consequences of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Andrew Henley, 2016)

For more information

  1. Practical self-help information  – See our guidance for individuals with convictions
  2. Personal experiences – Read posts relating to reform of the ROA on theRecord
  3. Discuss this issue – Share your views and experiences on our online forum
  4. You can also find below the latest from Twitter, using the hashtag #roareform
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