Practical guidance – Lived Experience

Why this is important

Charities are increasingly keen to involve & elevate those with lived experience in their organisations. We think it is important that people with criminal records are valued for their capacity for the role in question, separate to (or as well as) the lived experience they may bring. Regardless of the reasons for a person’s criminal record, (whether it relates in some way to your charitable aims or not) the fact that over 12 million people have a criminal record means there is a significant untapped talent pool that you should be reaching out to.

Different roles within your organisation may require distinct processes for ensuring that people with experience of the criminal justice system are included. Take the following examples:


A peer role requires applicants to have a criminal record. The applicant has a criminal record and would like to use their personal experience of the criminal justice system to support others facing similar challenges.

For this role, it might be appropriate and relevant to recruit someone specifically because of their personal experience, provided the recruitment process follows fair chance principles.


A peer role requires personal experience of domestic abuse. However, the job description doesn’t say anything about criminal records. The applicant’s criminal record relates to her experience of domestic abuse. She does not know how her disclosure of her criminal record might affect her application. Explaining her experience as a survivor can be distressing. So, she decides it is not worth putting herself through this disclosure process if her criminal record will mean she isn’t selected.

For this role, someone’s lived experience is relevant for the role, and their criminal record relates to this in an indirect fashion. Without clear information upfront about how criminal records are managed, this charity may loose out on excellent candidates with the experience they are seeking.


A role as a fundraising manager in a criminal justice charity offers no information about criminal record disclosure requirements. The applicant has a spent criminal record. They know that fundraising roles occasionally involve account management, so can attract Standard DBS checks. Their personal experience of the criminal justice system has motivated them to support organisations to seek funding. They have no desire to talk about this once in post. They have substantial professional experience in similar roles and want to be assessed on that basis. They don’t apply because they don’t want to appear ‘dishonest’ by not disclosing their spent record,  and later finding that the organisation will conduct a standard DBS check.

In this instance, someone’s personal experience is relevant to the role in question but their skills and abilities for the role are more important. This organisation needs to give better information upfront about the criminal record process for this specific role. They also need a better understanding that people with lived experience aren’t only suitable for/ interested in ‘peer roles’.


A housing charity is looking to recruit a Communications & Social Media worker. The applicant has an array of direct and transferable skills from previous professional and voluntary experience. They meet all of the essential and desirable criteria for the post. They also have a criminal record. There is no information provided about how their criminal record might affect their application. The site says ‘all employees are DBS checked’, but not at what level or when.

In this example, the charity may miss out on an application from this perfect candidate. The vacancy details for this post should be tailored to the specific role, not a blanket organisational rule of ‘all employees are DBS checked’. They should not assume that because their organisation works with vulnerable groups that means every role will ‘require’ a check. They should determine which specific roles might have specific reasons for requesting criminal record information, and provide this in the vacancy details.


It is important to also recognise that people with complex needs are disproportionately likely to interact with the criminal justice system. For example, behaviour linked to an unhelpful relationship with drugs or alcohol is often criminalised. This leaves people subject to the criminal justice system as a result of other challenges they have faced. This means that prospective applicants for roles requiring lived experience of (in this example) unhelpful drug use may be more likely to have a criminal record. So Fair Chance recruitment can improve your recruitment for peer roles, even where the experience you’re seeking is not of the criminal justice system directly.

You should pay particular attention to opportunities for progression if recruiting for peer-delivered/ lived experience roles. This is because a person who starts in a peer role may not wish to continue being identified as having lived experience when progressing to a different role. You can find more information about progression on this page.


This guidance was last updated in April 2024


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