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How to Check Unspent Convictions

Written by, Marija Petkova

Updated September, 13, 2022

Have you ever been convicted of a crime? 

Even if you haven’t, it’s important to know the meaning of unspent convictions and how that conviction might affect your life and job prospects.

In this blog post, we’ll explain how to check unspent convictions and what to do if you have one. 

What is an unspent conviction?

Put simply, an unspent conviction is a criminal conviction that will show on all levels of a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check, including the basic disclosure check (which are essentially criminal record checks).

You can have an unspent conviction on your record if you’re still in the rehabilitation period for a crime. This means that not enough time has passed since the crime or offence has been committed for the person to be considered “rehabilitated” under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

However, convictions for certain crimes, such as violent crimes, remain permanently on the record. Some examples of unspent convictions that stay unspent are custodial sentences of more than two and a half years.

Did you know? Over 40% of the people who are victims of violence do not support the police taking any action!

How to Check Unspent Convictions 

If you’re wondering “how do I know if I have an unspent conviction?” there’s an easy way to check: you can apply for a DBS check online to get a copy of your DBS certificate and see whether you have any unspent convictions. 

The copy will also show any cautions, reprimands, and warnings you’ve received from a court or the police.

Spent vs Unspent Convictions

Spent convictions in the UK are convictions that do not show on a basic DBS check. 

If a crime is “spent,” it means that the rehabilitation period for it has lapsed under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. 

For example, the rehabilitation period for a prison sentence of less than six months is seven years. That means that the crime will remain on the convicted individuals’ record as unspent for a total of 7 years, after which it will be considered a spent conviction.

The main difference between spent and unspent convictions is where it shows on a DBS check.

Unspent convictions in the UK show on all levels of DBS check and spent convictions only show on standard and enhanced DBS checks.

How Long Does A Conviction Stay On Your DBS?

Most spent and unspent convictions remain on your DBS certificate for life, but the DBS does remove certain convictions from it after some period of time. 

When and whether a conviction will be removed from your DBS certificate depends on your age, the type of conviction or caution you received, and if you served any jail time for it. 

Also, not all offences end up on a DBS certificate. Offences like driving over the speed limit doesn’t show on any type of DBS check.

The DBS only filters crimes that were not violent in nature. It also won’t remove a conviction if the offender has committed another offence or if they went to prison. 

  • If you were under the age of 18 when the crime was committed and you were cautioned, then the DBS will filter the conviction two years after the caution was issued.
  • If you were under the age of 18 when the crime was committed and you were convicted, then the conviction will be removed from your DBS certificate after 5.5 years. 
  • If you were 18 or older when the crime was committed and you were cautioned, the DBS will filter it after six years.
  • If you were 18 or older when the crime was committed and you were convicted, the DBS will keep it on your certificate for  11 years. 

Did you know? Removing a conviction from your DBS certificate is not the same as wiping it from your criminal record. Your criminal record will always show all of your convictions, regardless of whether they are spent, unspent, or were removed from your certificate.

Can You Get A Job With An Unspent Conviction?

One of the main reasons why there’s a distinction between unspent and spent criminal convictions in the UK is because some employers ask potential employees to disclose previous convictions during the application process. 

Most employers usually ask for a copy of a basic DBS certificate, but candidates for certain roles might be required to provide a copy of a standard or enhanced DBS check.

What does a basic DBS check show? It only shows unspent convictions. Standard and enhanced DBS checks show spent convictions and cautions, among other things.

Still, employers are legally required to treat all spent convictions as if they did not happen when considering a candidate for a job (except for certain job positions). Refusing employment to a “rehabilitated” person can be unlawful.

In comparison, people with unspent convictions have fewer legal protections. Even basic DBS checks show all unspent convictions.  

If you’re having trouble finding a job because of an unspent conviction and you’re near retirement, you might want to check if you have enough money saved to officially retire.

Bottom Line 

Unspent criminal convictions are important because they show on all levels of DBS checks and can impact your chances of getting employment. Luckily, most of them will be considered “spent” after the rehabilitation period passes and the DBS might remove a conviction from a certificate if the person hasn’t committed any other offences, hasn’t done prison time, and hasn’t committed a violent offence.

Frequently Asked Questions And Their Answers

How long is a conviction unspent for?

That depends on the type of crime that was committed and the age of the convicted. Certain crimes remain unspent indefinitely.

How long does basic DBS take?

The basic level safeguarding check usually takes around 10 working days to process.

Can you check if someone has a criminal record in the UK?

Employers can check a potential employee’s criminal record by asking for DBS check information.

How do I check my criminal record for free in the UK?

DBS checks were temporarily free during one period in the pandemic for certain roles. You can check your criminal record by requesting a DBS check but it costs £18.

Does a dbs check show family convictions?

DBS checks only show convictions, cautions, and information that’s related to the individual being checked. If you’re wondering how to check unspent convictions, you can see all of them on your DBS certificate.

My name is Marija, and I'm a financial writer at DontDisappointMe. Although finance might not be everyone's cup of tea, my 10+ years of working in one of the biggest banks in my country, and my interest in extensive research on everything finance/investment-related, have made me somewhat of an expert in the field (if I do say so myself). No longer having the passion to work in a corporate setting, I decided that I couldn't let all of this knowledge go to waste so I started writing. And, here I am! Today I try to share my knowledge with my audience in the hopes of making this topic as simple and interesting as possible. In my leisure time, I like spending time with my family and travelling to new locations.