A recruitment agency with a blanket ban on placing people with unspent convictions

We’ve recently been contacted by an individual who wanted some advice following dismissal from his job because he didn’t disclose his unspent criminal record.

The individual explained that on release from prison, over 15 years ago, he’d been told by his probation officer that his conviction would become ‘spent’ (under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974) after five years, and that after this point, assuming he didn’t get any further convictions, he wouldn’t have to disclose it when applying for jobs.

When recently registering for temporary work with a large recruitment agency, the individual didn’t disclose his conviction when asked, as he genuinely believed it was spent. He was then placed in a job with a leading energy supplier and the recruitment agency carried out a basic criminal record check which disclosed his conviction.

Unfortunately, he’d been given incorrect advice by his probation officer. As he’d received a 7-year prison sentence, his conviction would never become spent and would always have to be disclosed.

When they received his basic check back, the employer immediately cancelled the placement as they felt that both the recruitment agency and the applicant had misled them. The recruitment agency later explained to the applicant that they wouldn’t be unable to secure him any further work due to company policy which had a blanket ban on the employment of anybody with an unspent conviction.

We wrote to the recruitment agency highlighting that we receive calls to our helpline every day from individuals who have been given misleading information from probation/police officers. Probation officers themselves often contact our helpline seeking information and advice around when convictions become spent. From experience, we believed it was possible for the individual concerned to have been given incorrect advice by their probation officer which is why he failed to disclose the conviction. We did not feel that the individual had deliberately withheld the details of his criminal record, and as he knew a basic check was to be carried out (as he’d given his consent for it), that backs up this up.

Where criminal record checks are undertaken, it’s important that a proper assessment is carried out on what is disclosed, rather than implement blanket bans on anybody who doesn’t have a clean certificate. In this case the individuals’ conviction was historic (from over 15 years ago) and not relevant to the work they were being employed to do.

We encouraged the employer to consider the individual circumstances, but unfortunately they simply took the view that the individual had deliberately lied about their conviction and said that they wouldn’t not be reinstating the individual. We were also told by the agency that they would be unable to find the individual any further work due to their company policy not placing individuals with unspent convictions. It was only at this stage did it become clear that the recruitment agency had this policy – they had previously suggested that had the applicant disclosed their unspent conviction, they would have been willing to consider him – this was clearly not the case, given their policy.

We’re doing some specific work with the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) to look at the way that recruitment agencies are working and to encourage them to be more open and inclusive towards people with convictions. This case shows that there’s a long way to go.


This case shows that:

  1. Whilst you might expect probation officers to have a good understanding of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, many are not trained in this, and can, as in this case, give incorrect information.
  2. Companies that ask applicants about unspent convictions should help them in answering the questions accurately – many employers signpost individuals to Unlock’s guidance for individuals in the wordings they use.
  3. Some companies have blanket bans on the recruitment of people with unspent convictions or don’t take into account how long ago the conviction occurred or how relevant it is to the job that somebody is doing.

Notes about this case study

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