Removal of spent convictions from a criminal record

How a conviction becomes ‘spent’

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 provides an opportunity for offenders to wipe the slate clean in some respects but contains numerous exceptions and details on the disclosure and use of past convictions on a criminal record.

The Act applies to all types of sentences and by sentences we include custodial sentences, fines, probations, findings in juvenile court and convictions for offences in the armed forces. The period of rehabilitation varies depending on the sentence and runs from the date of conviction – note that what is relevant is the length of the sentence actually imposed by the court not the length of imprisonment served.

When this rehabilitation period has expired, the conviction becomes ‘spent’ which means that it need not be revealed in the future. Generally, this includes when applying for the majority of jobs, insurance, credit or the tenancy of a property. Exceptions include some professions – for example working with children. The Act does not apply for jobs or visas outside the UK.

Convictions which are never ‘spent’

Certain convictions can never become ‘spent’. These are a sentence of life imprisonment; a sentence of imprisonment/ youth custody for more than 30 months, a sentence of detention during Her Majesty’s Pleasure for life and a sentence of custody for life. If a person is given one of the above sentences, this also has the effect of preventing any earlier convictions from becoming spent.

Two or more sentences in one court case

The rehabilitation period in this case depends on whether the sentences can take effect ‘concurrently’ (i.e. at the same time) or ‘consecutively’ (i.e. one after the other). If sentences are ordered to take effect concurrently, the sentences are treated separately and each allocated a rehabilitation period. If they run consecutively, the sentences are treated as a single term and so the rehabilitation period may be longer as a result.

Rehabilitation periods

A sentence of life imprisonment

Never

A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody for more than 30 months

Never

A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody for between 6 and 30 months

10 years for an adult, 5 years for a juvenile

A sentence of imprisonment or youth custody for 6 months or less

7 years for an adult, 5 years for a juvenile

An order of detention in a detention centre

3 years

A fine

5 years for an adult, 2 ½ years for a juvenile

A community service order

5 years for an adult

Probation, bind over to keep the peace or to be of good behaviour, conditional discharge

The date the order or bind-over ceases or 1 year, discharge whichever is longer

Hospital orders under the Mental Health Act 1983

5 years from the date of conviction or 2 years after the order expires, whichever is longer

Absolute discharge

6 months

Disqualifications and other order imposing disability prohibition or other penalty

The date the order ceases to have effect

A sentence of imprisonment within the armed forces

The same period as for prison sentences above

A sentence of detention arising from disciplinary proceedings within the armed forces

5 years for an adult, 2 ½ for a juvenile

A sentence of discharge with ignominy or a dismissal with disgrace within the armed forces

10 years for an adult, 5 years for a juvenile

A sentence of dismissal from the service within the armed forces

7 years for an adult, 3 – 4 years for a juvenile