Big changes to criminal records finally take effect

For the first time, many prison sentences of four or more years will be able to become spent.

Last Saturday was an important day for anyone with a criminal record looking for work or to change their job. Eighteen months after the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was passed, changes to spending periods finally came into effect on 28 October 2023. In a change, much more profound than the clocks going back, the criminal records of many thousands of people become spent overnight – with the critical consequence that they no longer have to be disclosed for most jobs.

Criminal justice campaigners spent years lobbying for these changes with the campaign led and co-ordinated by the charity, Unlock.

The spending period – otherwise known as a ‘rehabilitation period’ – is a period of time after a sentence has been completed, when a conviction still needs to be disclosed to employers, insurers or housing providers who ask about criminal records. This period after a conviction is a crucial time for someone trying to get their life back on track, and can last long after a sentence has been served.

Saturday’s changes mean that people sentenced to community orders will be free to move on and stop disclosing their conviction as soon as the order ends. Another major change is that, for the first time, many prison sentences of four or more years will be able to become spent. Being able to access employment is a key factor in rehabilitation, so removing that barrier is a huge step in the right direction.  Not only is it common sense that getting a job is a critical factor in leaving behind a life of crime, but the evidence base backs this up, highlighting four different aspects to the importance of finding work:

  1. An individual can fill their time constructively and become economically independent.
  2. Employment facilitates reintegration into the wider society by helping individuals to move away from criminal networks and develop social relationships with a wide range of people.
  3. Being in paid employment enhances individuals’ self-esteem and helps them to build a renewed and positive sense of self, which helps to protect against a return to crime.
  4. The status of being an employed person acts as an important symbol to the individual of their ability to return successfully to a conventional life.

The new rules also introduces a new component; for the first time the type of offence that a person has committed will become a factor in whether a conviction can become spent. This adds a new layer of complexity to an already confusing system. For those with prison sentences of four years or more, there is a list of excluded offences which will still remain unspent for life.  The government refers to sentences of over four years which will never be spent as those which relate to “serious violent, sexual and terrorist offences” but the full list of offences can be found in the legislation and in addition to the quite reasonable exclusions relating to murder and manslaughter, also includes some offences covered by the Theft Act and Criminal Damage Act. You can see the full list here: Sentencing Act 2020 (

However, by far the best resource if you are wanting to work out whether and when a criminal conviction is spent is to use the disclosure calculator developed by Unlock. You can find the calculator here and read all about Unlock’s ongoing campaigns and other work via its website here.