Burglars and drug dealers have records wiped clean under plans to get them into work

·3-min read
Burglar trying to break into a house with a crowbar - Michael Deacon/GETTY IMAGES
Burglar trying to break into a house with a crowbar - Michael Deacon/GETTY IMAGES

Thousands of burglars, fraudsters and drug dealers are to have their criminal records wiped clean under government plans to help them find work.

Criminals who have served jail sentences of more than four years will no longer have to tell employers about their past crimes as part of the Ministry of Justice’s rehabilitation plans.

At present, anyone jailed for more than four years is required by law to tell prospective employers about their criminal past. Recruiters are also entitled to carry out criminal records checks on them.

However, the crimes will become “spent” seven years after they complete their sentence under the new plans in the Government’s police, crime, sentencing and courts Bill. This means their past offences will no longer have to be automatically disclosed to employers.

It will cover not only those jailed after the Bill becomes law but all former offenders including those who have not been convicted of any crime in the seven years since they completed their sentence and time on licence.

Quicker 'spent' convictions

As soon as they reach the seven-year mark, they will see all their convictions become “spent.” It means most businesses will not be able to check their criminal records as their offences will be classed as spent.

Only employers recruiting for jobs involving children or vulnerable people will be told of the criminal records. Violent, sexual and terrorist offences will remain exempt, with those jailed for such crimes for more than four years having to declare their criminal records for the rest of their life.

Ministers say the changes will remove a “disproportionate barrier” to employment that prevents ex-offenders from moving on with their lives.

“For example, someone handed a five-year sentence for theft 30 years ago still has to disclose their crime despite never reoffending,” said an MoJ spokesman. They believe 11 years clear of crime is an appropriate time limit.

It is part of a series of changes under which jail sentences of less than a year will become spent after 12 months without reoffending and convictions of one to four years will no longer be disclosed after four crime-free years.

‘Wrong’ to conceal convictions

However, victims’ campaigners said it was wrong to conceal serious previous convictions from employers.

David Green, the chief executive of think tank Civitas, said: “We all live in hope of redemption. We all hope there will be some employers who give people a second chance.

“But it should not be a secret from them. If some employers are going to believe in second chances, they should be able to do it knowingly. To conceal someone’s criminal record is quite wrong. It is not fair on employers and it doesn’t have the same deterrent effect.”

The Government has committed to reducing reoffending, which costs the taxpayer around £18 billion a year, with securing employment for former prisoners seen as critical in this.

Justice Data Lab figures show the rate of reoffending for offenders who participated in a catering training scheme in prison and entered jobs on release fell to 15 per cent, compared with 22 per cent for those who did not, a difference of 32 per cent.

Call to overlook employees’ ‘past mistakes’

On average fewer than one in five (17 per cent) of former offenders are in P45 employment a year after release and more than half of employers say they would not consider hiring someone with a criminal record.

The Government is also backing a campaign by Business in the Community under which employers agree that they will not ask a recruit about previous offences until they have completed their interviews.

More than 150 employers have backed the “Ban the Box” campaign, publicly committing to judge candidates on the basis of their skills and suitability for a role, rather than their past mistakes.

Victoria Atkins, the prisons minister, told The Telegraph: “For those who have served their time and turned their backs on crime for good, these changes will help them into work while keeping checks in place for the most dangerous offenders.”

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