It’s one of those questions which is fairly typical on job application forms in the UK – “Do you have any criminal convictions?” Employers can then use the information given by the candidate on the form to decide whether or not to employ them. However, a report published by a government committee has led to a campaign totally change the way we ask candidates about their criminal past, and what people should be expected to disclose.

Delaying the Question

The idea behind the shake-up of recruitment practice is that ex-offenders are not being given a chance to leave mistakes behind them and start afresh. Statistics show that over 11 million adults living in the UK have some sort of criminal record, and 75% of employers admit to discriminating against people who have committed crimes in the past, even if these crimes were relatively minor, happened on a one-off basis and were committed when the person was very young. According to experts, the easiest way around this is by delaying asking the question – leave any mention of criminal records until the interview stage where the candidate can explain the circumstances of the conviction, or even until a job offer has been made. It is felt that these actions will level the playing field for ex-offenders and make it easier for them to obtain meaningful employment.

Shake-up in Criminal Records

The second proposal by MPs are changes to rules about when convictions are considered “spent”. The spent conviction legislation means that minor offences committed in the past can be set aside and forgotten about after a set period, currently five and a half years. Proposals would see this waiting period decreased to around two years for offences committed before the person was 18. Again, this is designed to help young people who have been in trouble through their teenage years to make a fresh start as they enter their adult years.

Criminal Records and DBS

It’s important to remember that there is a clear difference between employers who ask candidates to disclose criminal convictions, and roles which require a DBS check. If proposals go ahead to cut the length of time which has to pass for a conviction to be considered spent, then this will only affect the most basic level of police checking where minor convictions are filtered to remove spent convictions and cautions. With the more in-depth type of checking, usually required of people applying to work with children or vulnerable adults, spent convictions and cautions are not filtered and there is no proposal to change this legislation; the general ethos is that keeping children safe is more important than getting ex-offenders back into work.

Next Steps?

These proposals are at an early stage, and at present are just a recommendation from a government committee. Will they make it into law? On practical terms, the government is fairly occupied with Brexit and trade deals, so even though it seems more than likely that this type of legislation will be enacted in the long term, it’s not something which will happen soon.