How many employers ask about criminal records in application forms?

In 2018, Unlock surveyed 80 well-known national employers’ online application systems to assess their approaches to recruiting people with criminal records. We selected companies based on an in-house poll of large employers. We have now conducted a comparable survey in 2023, to explore whether practice has changed. Read the full report here. We found:  

  • 60% (48 employers) asked about criminal records on their online application form. There was a decrease in the percentage of employers who asked criminal record questions in the application stage (from 70% to 60%).  
  • A heartening 15 employers had stopped asking about criminal records since the first report. 3 employers had started asking where they had not previously.  
  • 83% of employers who asked the question provided no guidance to applicants – on the application form or in their wider information.  
  • 14% of employers had phrased the question about criminal records in a way that was either potentially unlawful or misleading. This showed a decrease since the last report (from 22%) 
  • Only one employer had a policy available that described their process for criminal record checks  
  • None of the online application forms automatically stopped a candidate proceeding after selecting ‘yes’ to a criminal record question. Our earlier report indicated that some platforms did this.  

Overall, a majority of employers continue to ask criminal record questions at application stage. This is disappointing but there has been some welcome improvement since our last survey five years ago. Fewer employers are asking about criminal records in the initial stages of the application process.  

By making judgements on the basis of criminal records, employers are missing out on skilled and capable candidates. At a time when 41% of employers in the UK report hard-to-fill vacancies, practice needs to change. In fact, 86% of employers who have (knowingly) recruited someone with a criminal record report a positive experience

This research highlights how important it is to implement Fair Chance Recruitment principles. Collecting criminal record data from every applicant is unlikely to ever be proportionate, and poses barriers for capable candidates. By adopting Fair Chance Recruitment principles, employers can ensure that they are recruiting lawfully, inclusively and effectively.


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