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What Is The Meaning of Spent and Unspent Convictions?

Aug 2, 2023 | DBS

Employers often require job applicants to undergo Disclosure, and Barring Service (DBS) checks to ensure the safety and suitability of individuals working with vulnerable groups. As part of the DBS checks, the concept of spent and unspent convictions plays a crucial role in assessing an individual’s criminal history. 

Understanding these terms is essential for both employers and individuals seeking employment. Let’s delve deeper into what spent and unspent convictions mean and their significance in DBS checks.

An Overview of Spent and Unspent Convictions

A spent conviction refers to a criminal offence that, over time, becomes “spent” or no longer needs to be disclosed to most employers. On the other hand, an unspent conviction is a recent or serious offence that must be disclosed during a DBS check. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in the UK defines the rules and guidelines for spent and unspent convictions.

What is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is a key piece of legislation that outlines the legal implications for spent and unspent convictions. Its main objective is to help individuals with past minor convictions and cautions reintegrate into society by providing them with the opportunity to move on from their past mistakes. The Act establishes rehabilitation periods, beyond which certain convictions become spent and no longer need to be disclosed. 

What is a Spent Conviction?

Spent convictions refer to those where the perpetrator has served their sentence, they are deemed reformed. A sufficient amount of time has passed, which means that the offence will now no longer be shown on a basic DBS check (however, standard DBS checks and enhanced ones will). 

Generally, minor offences, such as non-custodial sentences or fines, become spent after a specific period. However, more serious offences, including violent crimes or offences resulting in imprisonment, may never become spent. It’s important to note that sexual offences are never considered spent and must be disclosed regardless of the amount of time that’s passed. 

How Long Do Spent Convictions Stay on Record?

The length of time a spent conviction remains on an individual’s record depends on the severity of the offence. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, there are different rehabilitation periods for different types of convictions. The age of the offender will also influence the rehabilitation period and, therefore, how long the spent conviction will remain on record. 

How Long Till a Conviction is Spent?

The time it takes for a conviction to become spent varies based on the sentence received. 

For perpetrators under the age of 18, a caution will become spent after two years, while a conviction will take five and a half years. For individuals older than 18, it will take six and eleven years, respectively. 

It’s important to note that any subsequent convictions during the rehabilitation period can reset the rehabilitation clock, meaning the original conviction will remain unspent.

DBS Checks & Criminal Record Checks

What Does an Unspent Conviction Mean?

An unspent conviction refers to a criminal offence that has not yet reached the specified rehabilitation period under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. It is a conviction that still holds legal implications and must be disclosed in various circumstances, such as during background checks for employment or volunteering. 

Employers have the right to ask about unspent convictions, especially for positions involving work with vulnerable groups or roles that require a high level of trust. 

How Do I Know if I Have Unspent Convictions?

To determine if you have any unspent convictions, you can request a copy of your criminal record from the DBS or use an online service authorised by the government, like DBS Checks Online

This record, often referred to as a basic DBS check, provides a comprehensive overview of any unspent cautions or convictions against your name. It is essential to be aware of your unspent convictions, as non-disclosure, when required, can have legal consequences and may impact employment prospects.

What are Examples of Unspent Convictions in the UK?

Unspent convictions can vary in severity and type, ranging from minor offences to more serious crimes. 

Examples of unspent convictions in the UK include:

  • Offences involving violence, such as assault or grievous bodily harm (GBH).
  • Drug-related offences, such as possession, supply, or trafficking.
  • Sexual offences, including rape, indecent assault, or child exploitation offences.
  • Offences related to dishonesty, such as theft, fraud, or burglary.
  • Offences involving firearms or offensive weapons.
  • Offences related to public order, such as rioting or causing public disturbances.

These examples provide a general idea, but it’s important to note that the specific circumstances of each case can influence whether a conviction is spent or unspent. It is advisable to seek professional advice or consult the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 for a comprehensive understanding of the status of your convictions.

What’s the Difference Between Spent and Unspent Convictions?

The primary difference between these two lies in timing. Spent convictions are those where the rehabilitation period has passed, and the crime has been removed from the individual’s record. Spent convictions are also generally not required to be disclosed to most employers. However, certain professions, such as those involving work with children or vulnerable adults, may require standard or enhanced DBS checks where spent convictions are also disclosed. 

An unspent conviction, on the other hand, refers to cautions and convictions that have not passed the rehabilitation time. They must be disclosed in all types of DBS checks and can significantly impact an individual’s employment prospects.

Conclusion on Spent and Unspent Convictions

Understanding the meaning of spent and unspent convictions is crucial for both employers and individuals undergoing DBS checks. Spent convictions no longer need to be disclosed, while unspent convictions must be reported during the process. 

By grasping the criteria for spent convictions, the retention periods, and the implications of having spent or unspent convictions, individuals can navigate the DBS check process more effectively, and employers can make informed decisions when assessing an applicant’s criminal history.



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