Working opportunities for ex-offenders


If you need help with a prospective employer and are unsure about whether to declare your criminal record, or are finding you are being discriminated against because of a spent conviction, meeting with an employment solicitor may be beneficial for you.

Ex-offenders and re-offenders

There are approximately 90,000 prisoners released in England and Wales each year, and 60% of these re-offend within two years.

Research shows that if ex-offenders find sustainable work this can reduce re-offending by about one third to one half. However, because of a lack of immediate opportunities, only about 25% of ex-offenders have a job on their release from prison.

The Government believes that employment is a crucial factor in the prevention of re-offending but there are many societal barriers to this goal. For example, ex-offenders generally have low skill-levels, few formal qualifications, and poor employment histories. Additionally, potential employers may have negative attitudes about employing people with previous convictions.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (the Act) prevents discrimination against ex-offenders with minor convictions who seek working opportunities.

Under the Act, certain criminal convictions are considered ‘spent’ after a period of rehabilitation, which varies according to the offence. However, if the jail term was for two-and-a-half years or more, then the conviction is never spent.

Employers may not discriminate against a person seeking work on the grounds of a spent conviction. However, some types of jobs are exempt from this rule and an ex-offender would have to disclose spent and unspent convictions if they were to apply. Examples of exempt jobs include:

  • Caring for children and vulnerable adults
  • Banking and finance
  • Law enforcement
  • Professions in the health service and pharmacy

If an application form asks for details of a criminal record, an ex-offender with a spent conviction can omit these details, unless the job is exempt under the Act.

If the ex-offender declines to answer in these circumstances, but the employer dismisses them later for having a spent conviction, the employee may have a case for unfair dismissal. However, they must have given one year’s continuous service or more to the employer.

Alternatively, if an ex-offender has unspent convictions and does not disclose them to an employer, they can be dismissed and even prosecuted.

Ex-offenders may be able to join The Work Programme with Jobcentre Plus when they leave prison, particularly if they are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. This Programme can help ex-offenders obtain work-experience and the support they need to find sustainable employment.

There are other organisations that can give general advice to ex-offenders looking for working opportunities, such as NACRO (the Crime Reduction Charity) and Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

If you are unhappy with your employment situation following a criminal conviction, please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above and we will recommend an employment /discrimination specialist if necessary.

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