The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was brought in to support people who have been convicted of a criminal offence, and who have not offended again, in gaining employment.

Under the Act convictions become ‘spent’ or ignored after a specified rehabilitation period. This means that after the specified time has passed, an person does not normally have to mention their criminal conviction when applying for jobs, obtaining services such as insurance or during any involvement with criminal proceedings.

All cautions and convictions resulting in prison sentences of up to four years eventually become ‘spent’. The 1974 Act was updated by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The changes brought in by this Act came into effect in March 2014.

The 2014 changes generally reduced the time taken for convictions to become spent. The rehabilitation period will depend on the length of sentence given, not related the offence committed. In the case of prison sentences, the rehabilitation period is based upon the overall sentence length and not the actual time spent in prison – for example an adult given a two year sentence may only serve one year in custody but for the purposes of the Act the conviction would become spent after six years.

How long will it be before a caution or conviction becomes spent?
The rehabilitation period is calculated from the date of conviction (or the date the caution is administered). Rehabilitation periods are listed in the table below:

 Rehabilitation period – time it takes to become ‘spent’
 Adult (aged 18+) at time of conviction  Young person (aged under 18) at time of conviction
Prison sentences  of more than 4 years  Sentence is never spent Sentence is never spent
Prison sentences  of more than 2.5 years (30 months) but less than 4 years Sentence length + 7 years Sentence length + 3.5 years
Prison sentences  of more than 6 months but less than 2.5 years (30 months)  Sentence length + 4 years Sentence length + 2 years
Prison sentences of less than 6 months

 Sentence length + 2 years  Sentence length + 18 months
Conditional Discharge Length of order Length of order
Absolute Discharge None None
Conditional Caution 3 months 3 months
Simple Caution/ youth caution None – immediately ‘spent’ None – immediately ‘spent’
Other Including Compensation Order, Supervision Order, Bind Over, Hospital Order Length of the order / once compensation is paid
 Length of the order / once compensation is paid

Does the Act apply to every job?
An employer cannot refuse to employ someone (or dismiss them if already employed) because he or she has a spent caution or conviction unless an exception applies. Certain  jobs and professions require people to declare all their cautions and convictions regardless of whether they have become spent or not. Types of jobs that require full disclosure include

  • Those working with children or vulnerable adults – for example teaching, social work and care jobs
  • Jobs in healthcare
  • Law and order jobs – eg Police, traffic wardens, prison officers, lawyers
  • Regulated industries – banking and financial roles, taxi drivers
  • National security roles

Jobs should state in the job advertisement, application form or person specification if they are exempt from the Act. The Act applies throughout the UK. However there are some differences in the way it is applied in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Other countries have their own rules relating to the declaration of criminal convictions. Anyone with a criminal conviction who wishes to take up a job outside of the UK should first contact the relevant embassy or high commission for further information. Further information on the Act together with a disclosure calculator and answers to common questions is available on the Unlock website.
This information is intended as general guidance only. It must not be regarded as a definitive interpretation of the Act. Anyone in doubt should seek legal advice.