On the 28 October 2023 changes affecting criminal records, youth and adult, came into effect under the PCSC Act 2022. These changes, which concern spending periods, impact what will be disclosed on Basic DBS checks, which can be requested by employers for any job; however, the changes do not impact what will appear on elevated DBS checks for regulated roles such as teaching or nursing. Spending periods have now been reduced in many cases, which is welcome recognition by the government and parliament of the barriers that many people with a criminal record face.
The criminal records system is complex but spending periods are the length of time during which convictions need to be disclosed when applying for many jobs (as well as in other circumstances, such as in relation to education, housing, or insurance). Disclosure of criminal records has been shown to be detrimental to an individual’s employment chances.The changes to spending periods that are newly implemented include:
- a reduction in spending periods for convictions leading to custodial sentences;
- changes to the sentence length thresholds at which increasing spending periods are applied;
- youth rehabilitation orders are now spent as soon as they are completed.
(There are also changes to spending period for over 18s, which are typically twice as long. The Unlock website has a full summary.)
For the first time ever custodial sentences of over four years can become spent, something we welcome at Unlock. However, there are exceptions to this, with the government stating that “serious violent, sexual or terrorist” offences, and it is a long list, are excepted from this new provision.
As noted above, these changes are driven by a desire to support rehabilitation, which is crucial in the context of a youth justice system whose purpose is rehabilitation rather than punishment. Shortening the spending periods attached to youth sentences will help to reduce some of the barriers to participation that a criminal record creates.
Although the majority of youth cautions were already spent immediately, these changes will still benefit many children with criminal records. Shorter spending periods mean that fewer youth criminal records are disclosable on Basic DBS checks, acting to reduce barriers to rehabilitation.
Some offences that led to custodial sentences have seen their spending periods reduced by 75% (sentences between six months and a year previously disclosable for a period of two years will now see that reduced to six months). This means that many children will, on 28 October, have seen their convictions become spent immediately if they were between six months and two years on from the end of such a sentence. It is crucial that those supporting children with criminal records are aware of these positive changes.
It is important to note, however, that some sentences retain the same spending period that they had previously - for example prison sentences of one to two and a half years. This, along with the fact that offence type is now an added factor in determining spending periods, highlights the need for the criminal records disclosure system to be simplified. Children at risk of acquiring a conviction must be supported by sound legal advice about the potential long-term consequences of a criminal record.
More remains to be done. As part of the #FairChecks campaign, we are calling for the slate to be wiped clean for all childhood offences so that they do not continue to follow children into adulthood. Indeed, there may be benefit in a distinct system for childhood criminal records, in line with youth justice system being distinct from that for adults.
At Unlock, we have updated our Disclosure Calculator to reflect the changes and our Helpline advisors are always happy to offer advice to anyone regarding whether something on their criminal record is spent.
Brendan Shepherd, Policy Officer, Unlock
- Progress__Prejudice_Shifts_in_UK_employer_attitudes_to_hiring_people_with_convictions.pdf (ams3.cdn.digitaloceanspaces.com) – this research highlights the fact that 30% of employers may choose to refuse to consider someone for a job solely on the basis of their criminal record.
- Rehabilitation: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 factsheet - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- A list of such offences is provided here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2020/17/schedule/18/enacted.
- As noted in this case: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Crim/2023/596.html.