How a conviction becomes ‘spent’
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA 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.
ROA 1974 applies to all types of sentences, including custodial sentences, fines, probation, 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 – 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’. This means 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 (see below).
The eligibility requirements for a visa to travel to another country are a matter for the country concerned and you should contact the embassy of the relevant country to find out if you need to disclose your spent convictions.
Immigration and nationality decisions are exempt from ROA 1974. This means that both spent and unspent convictions can be considered by the UK Border Agency when making these assessments.
Convictions which are never ‘spent’
The following sentences are exempt from ROA 1974 and can never become spent:
- sentence of imprisonment for life;
- sentence of imprisonment, youth custody, detention in a young offender institution or corrective training of more than four years;
- sentence of preventive detention;
- sentence of detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure or for life;
- sentence of custody for life;
- public protection sentences (imprisonment for public protection, detention for public protection, extended sentences of imprisonment or detention for public protection and extended determinate sentences for dangerous offenders).
As they remain unspent convictions, you must always disclose these conviction when asked about your criminal record.
Two or more sentences in one court case
The rehabilitation period in this case depends on whether the sentences can take effect ‘concurrently’ (ie, at the same time) or ‘consecutively’ (ie, 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.
The table below shows which convictions are deemed ‘spent’ under ROA 1974 after certain periods of time. The rehabilitation period is halved where the offender was under 18 at the point they were convicted.
|Rehabilitation period for criminal convictions|
|Sentence/disposal||Rehabilitation period for adults over 18||Rehabilitation period for under 18s|
|Imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution for more than 30 months||Never spent||Never spent|
|Imprisonment or detention in a young offender institution over 6 months but not exceeding 30 months||10 years||5 years|
|Imprisonment up to 6 months||7 years||3½ years|
|Fine||5 years||2½ years|
|Community sentence||5 years||2½ years|
|Conditional discharge||The period of the order, or a minimum of 12 months (whichever is longer)||The period of the order, or a minimum of 12 months (whichever is longer)|
|Compensation order||On the discharge of the order||On the discharge of the order|
|Supervision order||N/A||The period of the order, or a minimum of 12 months (whichever is longer)|
|Bind over||The period of the order, or a minimum of 12 months (whichever is longer)||The period of the order, or a minimum of 12 months (whichever is longer)|
|Attendance centre order||A period ending one year after the order expires||A period ending one year after the order expires|
|Hospital order||Five years, or a period ending 2 years after the order expires (whichever is longer)||Five years, or a period ending 2 years after the order expires (whichever is longer)|
When applying for the following jobs, spent convictions must still be disclosed: certain roles in the financial services sector, law enforcement, the prison service, the health service, private security, etc. Also, roles involving work with children, the elderly, and disabled. These exceptions are listed in the Exceptions Order to ROA 1974.
Spent convictions and criminal records
The police can keep all caution and conviction information on you until you reach 100 years of age, for police operational reasons and in the interest of the prevention and detection of crime.
- A new conviction will have no bearing upon the rehabilitation period of an unspent conviction unless it is a more serious offence, in which case the unspent conviction will only become spent once the new conviction is spent if later than it otherwise would have become spent.
- A conviction incapable of becoming spent also renders earlier unspent convictions incapable of becoming spent.
- If you are dismissed as a result of a spent conviction, you can bring a claim for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.