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10 Potential Impacts of having a criminal record in the UK

criminal record uk

It is not unusual to have a criminal record in the UK, but the fact that you are not alone does not often bring much comfort to those seeking understanding of how having a record might impact their daily lives.

According to a report by Unlock, an independent charity that represents the interests of persons with convictions, there are more than 11 million individuals with a criminal record in the UK and over 735,000 of those have unspent convictions.

The good news, however, is that with the right information the impacts of having a criminal record can be mitigated, meaning it is much easier to lead a normal life. Read on to understand more about criminal records and what their potential impacts might be.

What’s the difference between spent and unspent convictions?

 In an effort to reduce the long-term impact of criminal activity on individuals, lawmakers in the UK created a ‘spent’ vs ‘unspent’ conviction regime. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974 determines whether a conviction is ‘spent’ or ‘unspent’.

In general, a ‘spent conviction’ is understood as one that has reached a specified period (determined by the Act) and as such is removed from a person’s criminal record. Conversely, an ‘unspent conviction’ is one that has not met the specified period and as such remains on a person’s criminal record. This means it will show up on a Basic Criminal Record Check.

According to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), any conviction, warning, reprimand, or caution that is received after pleading guilty to an offence remains in the person’s criminal record and is stored in the Police National Computer (PNC). However, other petty crimes don’t warrant a criminal record and are automatically ‘spent’ cases. The latter crimes don’t appear in the PNC.

When will a criminal record be cleared in the UK?

 One of the first questions that many people ask when they find out they are going to have a criminal record is: ‘When will my criminal record be cleared?’ It stands to reason that this is a major concern for people, and it is a very common question in Solicitors’ offices.

There will always be a record of the historical crimes that a person has been convicted for, but only some of them will show up on a DBS check.

Whether a crime shows up on a DBS check depends on a number of factors, such as the age the person was when the caution or conviction was given, and the nature of the crime committed.

If the individual was over the age of 18 when they committed the Criminal Offence, the offence will only be removed from their DBS check if:

  • More than 11 years have passed since the conviction
  • The applicant was not incarcerated (i.e. did not go to prison)
  • The applicant has not committed a crime since
  • The crime committed does not appear on the list relevant to safeguarding

If the individual was under the age of 18 when they committed the crime (and even if they are over 18 now), the offence will only be removed from their DBS check if:

  • More than 5.5 years have passed since the conviction was committed
  • The applicant was not incarcerated (i.e. did not go to prison)
  • It was the person’s only offence
  • The crime committed does not appear on the list relevant to safeguarding

Cautions are less serious criminal consequences and as a result take less time to be removed from a DBS check. Assuming the caution did not relate to safeguarding in any way, the caution will be removed after six years for an adult, and two years for a minor.

What are the impacts of having a criminal record in the UK?

Regardless of the crime and regardless of the circumstances, one thing that is certain about having a criminal record is that there can be significant consequences for a person’s daily life. This is true of anyone, and rarely will a solicitor ‘sugar coat’ this reality.

While the consequences can be a major concern for many people with convictions, the good news is that with careful planning and a mature approach, the negative impacts of having a criminal record can be mitigated, at least to an extent.

In the remainder of this article, we point out some of the main areas impacted by having a criminal record in the UK.

  1. Employment

Employers may ask a potential hire to disclose their criminal record, and whether you have to declare spent or unspent convictions depends largely on the situation. Some employers have a legal obligation to file for a DBS check, and can get in trouble themselves if they do not obtain the requisite criminal record disclosure when the law says they have to.

This is especially the case with jobs that involve children or other vulnerable people, such as people with disabilities or the elderly. In these circumstances, it is always better to be truthful about your record, and sometimes it can be wise to share some details of the crime with your potential employer if you think it might help them to understand what happened or why you did what you did. Remember, if you lie about your unspent convictions to an employer, you may end up in more trouble.

  1. Travel

Depending on the nature of the crime committed, you may face travel restrictions. For most people with convictions, this will mean being unable to obtain entry visas to some countries with particularly stringent immigration rules, such as the US or Australia.

The same may be true for travel within Europe. Although the EU enjoys visa-free travel at the moment, it remains uncertain whether this law will prevail after Brexit; especially for those with convictions. Additionally, persons whose records feature Sexual Offences are usually required to notify the relevant authorities of their foreign travel at least a week before the start of the trip.

  1. Education

Convictions may sometimes present difficulties for those looking to participate in educational programmes, particularly publicly-funded ones. Some fields are affected more than others. For example, if you wish to pursue a course in health and social sciences or participate in a course involving children (nursery care or child psychology, for example), certain convictions may prohibit entry to those courses. If someone is at school, college, or university and receive a conviction, they may be discontinued – again, depending on the nature of the crime.

Most educational establishments have detailed policies governing cases of students with convictions, and most will consider cautions and reprimands as relatively minor issues that should not interfere with a person’s education. Charities and other support groups are available to assist people in finding educational opportunities after receiving a conviction.

  1. Jury Service

In the majority of cases, having a criminal record will impact your ability to serve on a Jury in some way. When you are initially called for Jury service, you will be asked to fill out a form detailing your criminal history, including any periods of imprisonment. Depending on the nature of the case to be tried and a host of other legal rules, you may be excluded. 

  1. Housing 

Most mortgage lenders require borrowers to disclose the list of items in their DBS check. Failure by the potential home buyer to provide this information may breach the mortgage contract, and as a result can have major consequences for buying a property. In addition, those who have convictions may be evicted from rental properties, depending on the nature of the crime and the location of the property (people with convictions involving sexual crimes against children cannot live near schools or playgrounds, for example). Cases vary considerably and it is imperative to get the right information about housing in case it affects any licensing terms placed upon you upon release from prison.

  1. Adoption 

In some situations, a criminal record may mean ineligibility to file for adoption. Certain sexual offences, particularly those involving a minor or sexual harassment, can bar you from adopting a child. An adoption application may be considered by authorities, but at the end of the day the authority can only place children with new parents if they believe the child will not face any danger, so anyone with convictions can expect to be questioned extensively about any case – current or historical – against them.

  1. Public Office

Having a criminal record may prevent a person from running for a public office, and the rules can get quite complicated. Per the Representation of the People Act 1981, if you have been convicted, sentenced to more than one year in prison, and are serving that sentence at the time you wish to become a MP, you are disqualified from serving. Upon release, however, you may run for election as an MP. The rules on becoming a local councillor are usually much more restrictive.

  1. Insurance 

Insurance can be problematic for those with convictions, and you should read the fine print of insurance policies very carefully to ensure you are making all disclosures necessary. Some insurance companies will outright deny a particular type of insurance based on a conviction, whereas others may increase premiums. Failing to disclose conviction information may result in charges for insurance fraud, should you later seek to claim a benefit from that policy.

  1. Careers 

A criminal record may prevent you from entering certain professions. Some industries have regulatory bodies that set high standards when it comes to those with convictions. This is particularly the case in law, accounting, healthcare, and childcare.

Unfortunately, the same is often true of unregulated professions. Employers are legally permitted to discriminate against a job applicant if they have an unspent conviction, regardless of whether the conviction is linked to the line of work.

  1. Driving 

High car insurance premiums are a common result of having certain crimes – particularly driving offences, of course – on your criminal record, but it is also a possibility that you may lose your licence altogether (either for a set period of time, or forever).

What to do if you have a criminal record and need additional help

At Stuart Miller Solicitors, we know how difficult it can be to navigate daily life with a criminal record. We have helped hundreds of clients with this issue and are able to advise on the best approaches to overcome related problems. Contact our office today for a friendly no-obligation conversation about how we could help.


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