When it comes to the hiring process in the United Kingdom, employers are faced with various considerations, particularly when it comes to hiring someone with a criminal record. Understanding the nuances and legal obligations surrounding this topic is paramount for making informed and fair hiring decisions.

This guide aims to provide a concise overview of the essential aspects that employers need to be aware of when considering individuals with criminal records as potential employees. This will empower their business to be just and inclusive while following the principles of fair hiring and being compliant with data protection laws.

Understanding the Importance of Considering Candidates with Criminal Records

When you employ people, you’ll want what’s best for your company and you’ll want to make sure that the person is right for the job. Some businesses will shy away from making recruitment decisions that involve working with someone with a criminal record. However, there’s a strong argument for hiring people with past convictions.

According to Natasha Finlayson, Chief Executive at Working Chance, “One in six adults in the UK has a criminal record, which means that a lot of great candidates are being overlooked by hiring managers who are making decisions based on personal prejudice rather than judging people fairly and objectively.”

Once you exclude candidates with criminal records, the employment pool becomes smaller and smaller, making it difficult for companies to find the “perfect fit”. We feel that, as a potential employer, you have a duty to be open-minded to individuals with criminal records, especially if they decide to disclose spent convictions.

Side Note: What are spent and unspent convictions?

Spent convictions are certain convictions such as final warnings, cautions and reprimands that have been removed from an individual’s record, meaning they are considered spent.
An unspent conviction, on the other hand, is when the conviction has not been cleared and will appear on a basic DBS check.

Legal And Compliance Considerations

Before delving into someone’s criminal record history, an employer needs to be aware of two important laws:

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA)

This act allows most convictions to be considered as “spent convictions” after a certain amount of time has passed. The only exception is if the person has received a prison sentence of more than four years or if they have received a form of a definite order.
This, as a general rule, means people can apply for certain jobs as an individual who has never received a conviction.

Data protection: the UK General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA)

This act requires you and your HR department to keep all information confidential to protect the applicant’s rights and respond accordingly when receiving such information about their criminal record.

Understanding Equal Employment Opportunity Laws

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is formed on the basis that all individuals are equal and should be treated equally when it comes to hiring, promotion, termination, compensation etc.

This is the foundation behind our CV Anonymisation tool, which will remove any form of bias as you process the application forms and make it simpler when hiring people.

Conducting background checks and assessing risk

If you are looking at hiring someone to work in professionally regulated jobs with vulnerable adults or other vulnerable groups such as elderly people or children, the employer is required to perform an enhanced DBS check (Disclosures and Barring Service). This service is used by many employers when performing a criminal record check.

There are four different kinds of DBS checks that are based on the post applied for:

  • Basic
  • Standard
  • Enhanced
  • Enhanced with list

By performing DBS checks, you are reducing your business’ risks and protecting your current employees.

These more detailed checks can be used to disclose more serious unspent convictions such as sexual offences, drug possession, fraud and other offences.

Here at Hireserve, our pre-employment checks can also help you verify past criminal convictions during the hiring process.

Benefits And Challenges Of Hiring Candidates With Criminal Records

While employing someone with criminal convictions may be a little daunting, there are noticeable benefits and challenges for your business:

Tapping into a diverse talent pool

People with convictions often have a large variety of skills that can benefit your company. It’s important to remember that the past does not always define someone’s life. By getting to know ex-offenders and their circumstances, you may discover that they have qualifications or assets that are useful to your business.

Promoting rehabilitation and second chances

Another great benefit of providing employment opportunities for people with convictions is the positive impact you’ll have on society. By showing the public that you are open to providing second chances to people with a criminal record, you are demonstrating fairness as well as creating a positive image for your business. This can increase clientele loyalty and also empower your employees.

Addressing potential risks and mitigating concerns

If the suitable candidate discloses a criminal record, whether that be on their application form or in a one-on-one interview, there are certain aspects that you’ll need to consider as an in-house recruiter before making the final decision.

  • Nature of offence: What was the offence? Was it just once or numerous times?
  • Relevance: How relevant is the offence to the current job offer? Will it impact their performance?
  • Seriousness: Was it an offence that may cause issues in the workplace, such as a sexual offence?
  • Circumstances: Consider all aspects of the offence (i.e. who, what, when, where, how, and why). You can also consider how the person’s life has changed since the offence and whether or not they still pose a risk.
  • Age at the time of the offence: If a good amount of time has passed since the offence, that also needs to be taken into consideration. People change and may be anxious about a spent conviction hanging over their heads.
  • Pattern of offences: Have certain offences happened over a short period of time or was it a single offence? It’s important to give ‘first timers’ a second chance at redemption.

Criminal Records and the Hiring Process: FAQs

Can you be refused a job because of a criminal record?

Due to The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), it is often considered unlawful to be denied a job based on a criminal record, but this decision will ultimately come down to the nature of the offence and the specific job.

Do you have to declare a criminal record for a job?

This will depend on the type of job you’re applying for. If an individual applies to be a social worker or work with vulnerable people, they’ll need to disclose all possible convictions.

Do all jobs check criminal records?

Not all jobs. Professionally regulated jobs will perform an enhanced check which will show all convictions, whether that’s an unspent or spent conviction.

How long does a criminal record last?

The time it takes for a criminal record to be cleared depends on the crime itself as well as the person’s age. The time frame can be increased if another crime is performed.


Hiring candidates with criminal records in the UK demands a thorough grasp of legal requirements, fair evaluation, and respect for privacy. Striking this balance allows for a just and inclusive recruitment process that supports rehabilitation and provides opportunities for a second chance.

By adhering to these principles, you can foster a workforce that embodies integrity and compassion while upholding compliance with evolving laws in the UK.

Want to learn more about how HIreserve ATS can help keep your hiring process fair and safe? Contact us at Hireserve today and see our ATS in action!

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.