Pre-Employment checks are becoming increasingly common in the UK jobs market. Employers want to spend a bit of time and money looking into the backgrounds of the people who they are thinking of employing, as an attempt to guard against damage to the business from a rogue employee, or someone with a long criminal record in fraud. One of the most common parts of the recruitment process is the use of DBS Checks, also known criminal records screening. These checks serve as a tool for potential employers to look at whether someone has a criminal record, an assess the relevance of an individual’s convictions to the job role in question.


Unspent Convictions vs. Spent Convictions

The term “unspent convictions” refers to criminal convictions that are still relevant in legal terms, based on the nature of the crime and the length of time which has elapsed since the crime was committed. Once a conviction is legally spent, you do not have to tell a prospective employer about it – it’s as if it never happened, in most cases. Spent convictions are therefore crimes that have been committed and the person subsequently rehabilitated. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974), it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on their spent convictions.

Some of the more serious crimes such as convictions leading to imprisonment exceeding two and a half years or those involving violent or sexual offences are never spent and will be considered part of your current criminal record for life.


How Do I Know What is Spent?

The status of convictions as spent or unspent depends on factors such as the length of the rehabilitation period and the severity of the offence, as well as the age of the person when the crime was committed. Offences that result in a prison sentence exceeding two and a half years remain unspent indefinitely.



It can take several years for crimes to be considered “spent” on your criminal record, and during this time they may still appear on a DBS check. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get the position anyway – many employers are more than happy to give someone a second chance, especially where they can prove that they have turned their lives around and kept out of trouble.

The Disclosure and Barring Service also operates a filtering process, which means having a second look at any older convictions or cautions on an applicant’s record, and filtering out the ones they feel to be irrelevant. For example, anyone who received a caution from the police under the age of 18, will have this fact filtered out by the DBS from an enhanced disclosure after two years. Someone over 18 at the time of the offence will have cautions filtered after six years, and non-custodial convictions filtered out after eleven years. This filtering process can only be used by the DBS when the offences are not considered a safeguarding risk. Very violent offences, or sexual offences, will never be filtered from someone’s record.