The Difference Between Spent and Unspent Convictions

A DBS Check may reveal that an applicant has spent and unspent convictions. But what exactly is the difference?
We look to answer this question in this blog post:

DBS Checks and Spent/Unspent Convictions

Spent and unspent convictions will appear on all types of DBS checks (basic, standard, enhanced and barring).

For standard DBS checks, these convictions will appear alongside conditional cautions, cautions, reprimands, and final warnings. For enhanced DBS checks, this is the same, as well as any information help by local police authorities and if the applicant is on any barred lists.

Spent and Unspent Convictions – what is the difference?

A spent conviction is a crime that is removed from a criminal record after a certain period of time. Spent convictions are governed by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Some spent convictions will appear on a standard or enhanced check, depending on the nature of the crime.

An unspent conviction is a crime that has not yet reached this defined time and will show up on all types of DBS checks.

The government provide a list of Rehabilitation Periods, including scenarios, most common sentences, and disposals.

How long before a conviction is spent?

A conviction will remain unspent until the court order ends. Depending on the type of conviction, an order may run for years longer than the sentence.

Some crimes, such as violent or serious sexual crimes, will stay on a criminal record indefinitely, or if an offence results in a prison sentence of more than 2 and a half years.

How long does a conviction stay on a criminal record?

Cautions for under 18s: 2 years after the caution was processed, providing the crime is not relevant to safeguarding

Conviction for under 18s: 5 and a half years after the conviction, providing no prison sentence was given. In addition, the individual must be free of any crimes since the conviction and the crime was not relevant to safeguarding

Cautions for over 18s: 6 years after the caution was processed, providing the crime is not relevant to safeguarding

Convictions for over 18s: 11 years after the conviction, providing no prison sentence was given. In addition, the individual must be free of any crimes since the conviction and the crime was not relevant to safeguarding

I’m applying for a job. What if my criminal record check reveals spent or unspent convictions?

Most employers treat this on a case-by-case basis. If your criminal record contains unspent convictions, then the employer will assess the potential impact this could have on their organisation. For example, if you are applying for an excepted role (working with children and/or vulnerable adults), and the employer feels your unspent conviction/s revealed could pose a danger, then they can refuse to employ you.

If your criminal record has a spent conviction/s, the employer may ask what they were for. However, you are legally allowed to withhold this information.

Further reading

Employee background checks – what to look out for

DBS Check – Everything you need to know

A-Z of Job Roles and the type of DBS check required

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