If you’ve spent any time around DBS Checks, you’ve probably heard the terms ‘spent convictions’ and ‘unspent convictions’ – but what’s the difference between them?

In this blog, we’ll explain what the terms mean and how they relate to DBS Checks.

Spent and unspent convictions: what do DBS Checks show?

First of all, let’s go over a bit of background information…

There are three different levels of DBS Check, and each level will reveal different criminal record information.

  • Basic Criminal Checks will show any unspent convictions or conditional cautions the applicant has
  • Standard DBS Checks will show both spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings that are not subject to filtering
  • Enhanced DBS Checks will show the same details as Standard Checks, plus any other relevant information held by the applicant’s local police force

Enhanced DBS Checks may also show whether the applicant is barred from working with children and/or adults, if the role is eligible for a barred list check.

What is the difference between spent and unspent convictions?

As you can see from the definitions above, whether a conviction is spent or unspent affects whether it will show up in a DBS Check.

So, what’s the difference between spent and unspent convictions?

Eligible convictions or cautions become spent after a specified period of time. The length of this period varies depending on the type of disposal administered or the length of the sentence imposed. Until this period has passed the conviction or caution is unspent.

You can see a list of rehabilitation periods for the most common sentences and disposals and example scenarios here.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

The provisions for a conviction or caution to become spent are laid out in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA).

The ROA primarily exists to support the rehabilitation into employment of reformed offenders who have stayed on the right side of the law.

Under the ROA, all cautions and convictions may eventually become spent, except those that result in prison sentences of over four years and all public protection sentences regardless of the length of sentence.

Additionally, if an offender has a conviction that is excluded from rehabilitation such as the above, previous convictions that were unspent at the time they were convicted would also never be spent.

Once a conviction is spent, the offender is considered rehabilitated. The conviction won’t show up on a Basic DBS Check and the person will not have to declare its existence in most circumstances, unless an exception applies.

The exceptions where you may have to disclose spent cautions and convictions are listed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975.

These are jobs and activities for which fuller disclosure of a person’s criminal record history is relevant; for example, where there is a risk to children, other people in vulnerable circumstances or some other particularly sensitive areas of work.

In these circumstances, you will usually be required to undergo a Standard or Enhanced DBS Check.

For more information on the ROA and spent and unspent convictions, see the government’s guidance.

We hope this blog has made spent and unspent convictions a bit clearer. If you’d like to know more about what will show up on a DBS Check, feel free to get in touch – we’re always happy to help.

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Our blogs are advisory in nature and reflect uCheck Limited’s current thinking about best and common practice in the subjects discussed.

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