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Employers may wish to establish whether a prospective employee has any previous criminal convictions. The existence of a conviction does not automatically mean that the person is unsuitable for employment. Often a conviction will have no relevance to a particular job applicant's suitability for the job.

Key points

  • An employer will be acting unlawfully if they refuse to employ a job applicant on the grounds that they have a spent conviction or that they have declined to disclose a spent conviction.
  • For certain types of employment, however, it will be lawful for an employer to take convictions into account when deciding whom to employ and, at their discretion, to reject an applicant on the grounds that they have a spent conviction.
  • Employers may want to conduct formal checks on whether a prospective job applicant has past convictions.
  • Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act, information about a job applicant's criminal convictions is dealt with differently to other personal data.

Recent developments

Prisoners and ex-offenders: An untapped recruitment source

Ex-offenders, and prisoners on day release, are being hailed as a source of relief for employers struggling with staff shortages, especially in hospitality and HGV dependent industries.

The ‘New Futures Network’ is a specialist part of the prison service and acts as a go between for prisons and employers, helping to identify the best options and establishing links with other businesses.

Training and production facilities for individual employers can also be established within the prison estate, allowing for workshops staffed by serving prisoners, providing work during their sentence and skills for the future.

A ’Recruiting Prison Leavers Summit’ was held virtually on 21 October 2021, showcasing employers who already benefit from employing prison leavers, and highlighting individual examples of successful employment by companies such as Timpson’s and Greene King.


Updated 28 October 2021