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Criminal records: The facts

If you have been sentenced for a crime, you will get a criminal record, even if you were given an absolute discharge.

What is a criminal record? Criminal records: The facts

This is a record of a person’s criminal history. It is generally used by potential employers and lenders to assess a person’s trustworthiness. 

The information included in a criminal record includes criminal convictions, cautions, warnings or reprimands, and any other information the police may hold on you.

Who can see my criminal record?

If you apply for a job or a voluntary position that falls into certain categories, the organisation can request a check from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) which will give them details of your criminal record. They can only do this if you agree, but they can refuse to take you on without the check.

Checks can be requested for any role that involves working with children or vulnerable adults, jobs with the police or courts, and various other positions. Find out more on Gov.uk

There are three types of DBS check:

  • Standard: Covers spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings
  • Enhanced: Covers everything in the standard check, plus any additional information that the police think is relevant to the role
  • Enhanced with list checks: Covers everything in the enhanced check, plus a check of the DBS barred lists
You can't request a DBS check on yourself, but there are other ways to see your records.

Do I have to tell an employer about criminal convictions?

Even without a DBS check, you might have to tell a potential employer about any criminal convictions you have. However, many convictions become 'spent' after a certain length of time, which means that you don't have to tell your employer about them. In fact, it's illegal for an employer to discriminate against you based on a spent conviction.

There are exceptions to this. For some jobs, you have to tell your employer about spent convictions, and they are allowed to refuse to take you on based on them. These include:

  • Working with children or vulnerable adults
  • Some jobs in law enforcement, courts and the prison service
  • Private security jobs
  • Jobs involving national security.

If an employer asks about spent convictions, its worth checking that they are allowed to do so.

The length of time before a conviction becomes spent depends on how serious it is. Some serious convictions never become spent. Find out more about how long it takes for convictions to become spent.

When does my criminal record get deleted from police files?

The police won't delete your criminal record before your 100th birthday. However, information that didn't lead to a conviction may be deleted after six years, unless it is related to a serious offence or the police considers you an ongoing risk.

Do I get a criminal record for a caution?

A caution does become part of your criminal record. However, cautions become spent immediately, so you don't have to tell employers about them unless you are applying for a job where spent convictions can be considered.

How do I see what information the police have about me?

The Data Protection Act gives you the right to see what information the police hold about you. To do this, you need to contact your local police force. You will need to provide:

  • A written request - some police forces have a form to complete
  • A £10 fee
  • Proof of your identity
  • A photograph, if you are requesting CCTV footage

Your local police force might not have access to information held on you by other police forces, if that information is about an occasion where you were a victim, a witness or involved in a traffic accident. For this information, you will need to contact the relevant force directly.

The police can also refuse to provide information they hold on you if it relates to an ongoing investigation, or if it would affect their ability to prevent or detect crime.

You can request information from the prison service, court service and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) using the same process.

You can also get a 'basic disclosure' from Disclosure Scotland, which will give details of any unspent convictions. There is a £25 fee for this.

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