Can a Background Check Uncover Unspent Convictions?

A person’s criminal history may be a key interest area when conducting background checks. In the UK, criminal records are categorised as either ‘spent’ or ‘unspent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Unspent convictions haven’t passed a specified rehabilitation period yet.

Therefore, it must be disclosed in certain circumstances, such as when applying for jobs. This also means a background check will uncover unspent convictions.

Spent vs Unspent Convictions: What’s the Difference?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (applying to England and Wales only) aims to give offenders a chance to move on from their criminal past. Under this legislation, a conviction, caution, or warning becomes ‘spent’ after a specified period of time has passed since the sentence—provided the person has not reoffended. 

The length of this ‘rehabilitation period’ depends on the sentence imposed rather than the offence committed. For example:

  • A conviction resulting in a prison sentence of more than two and a half years can never become spent.
  • A sentence of one year or less in prison has a rehabilitation period of 12 months from the end of the sentence (including time on licence).
  • A community or youth rehabilitation order becomes unspent on the same date as its stipulated end date. If there’s no end date, the rehabilitation period is two years from the conviction date.
  • A fine has a rehabilitation period of 12 months from the conviction date.

Until this rehabilitation period is over, the conviction is considered ‘unspent’ and you must disclose it when asked. Once spent, you no longer need to disclose the conviction for most jobs or insurance purposes.

However, there are some exceptions. For certain roles, like if you’re working with children or vulnerable adults, you may need to disclose both spent and unspent convictions. This depends on the level of DBS check the role requires.

How Do DBS Checks Work?

A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check (previously known as a CRB check) is a type of background check that can uncover criminal convictions. It’s important to note that private investigation firms cannot conduct DBS checks. 

These checks must be requested through official channels. There are three levels of DBS checks:

1. Basic DBS Check

A basic DBS check is the lowest level criminal record check available. It will reveal details of unspent convictions and conditional cautions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

Anyone older than 16 can request a basic check for purposes such as employment, volunteering, insurance, or visas. Employers can also request a basic check for any role, but the applicant must give their consent.

A basic DBS check won’t show any spent convictions, cautions, reprimands, or final warnings. It also won’t check the DBS barred lists.

2. Standard DBS Check

A standard DBS check is more detailed than a basic check. It will show details of spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings (unless they’re eligible to be ‘filtered’).

Roles in the legal, financial, security and health sectors may require a standard check. Like the basic check, a standard DBS check won’t reveal whether the applicant is on the barred lists.

3. Enhanced DBS Check

An enhanced DBS check is even more detailed than the standard. It includes the same information as a standard check, plus any relevant information held by local police. 

Enhanced checks are typically required for roles that involve:

  • Working with children or vulnerable adults, such as teachers, social workers and healthcare professionals 
  • Working in some high-level financial positions

In some cases, such as for roles in schools, an enhanced check will also include a check of the children’s barred list. This will reveal whether the applicant is barred from working with children.

Will an Unspent Conviction Show Up on a DBS Check?

Yes, if you have an unspent conviction, it will appear on all levels of DBS checks. Unspent convictions aren’t filtered from DBS certificates.

If you have an unspent conviction and are applying for a role that requires a DBS check, you must tell your potential employer about it. It’s important to be honest, as lying on a DBS application is a criminal offence. The employer can then decide whether the conviction is relevant to the role.

Remember, once a conviction becomes spent, it will no longer appear on a basic DBS check. However, it’ll still be disclosed on standard and enhanced checks unless it’s protected. Certain convictions, such as those involving specified offences, will always be disclosed on standard and enhanced checks, even when spent.

What About Unspent Cautions?

Cautions can also be unspent for a certain period:

  • Simple and youth cautions become spent immediately.
  • Conditional cautions become spent on two occasions. Either on its end date or three months after you received it (if there’s no end date). 

Because simple cautions are spent upon issue, they won’t show up on DBS checks. But unspent conditional cautions will appear on all DBS checks. Once spent, they won’t show up on a basic check, but may still be disclosed on standard and enhanced checks, depending on the filtering rules.

How Far Back Does a DBS Check Go?

Basic checks will only report on unspent convictions and conditional cautions, regardless of how long ago they happened.

Standard and enhanced checks will provide details of all sentences and offences, including spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings. However, certain old or minor offences may be filtered out from these checks. These filtering rules typically consider the seriousness and type of offence, not just the applicant’s age. Offences that are serious, involve sexual or violent acts, or are relevant to safeguarding will never be filtered and will stay on your record.

What Else Might a Background Check Reveal?

While private investigators cannot conduct criminal record checks or DBS checks, they can provide comprehensive background checks that uncover a wide range of other information. Depending on your needs, private investigators can uncover information like:

  • Employment history and professional qualifications
  • Directorships and business interests
  • Financial situation, including debt, insolvency and fraud
  • Address history and property ownership
  • Personal relationships and family background
  • Social media and online presence
  • Lifestyle and reputation

Private investigators carry out these types of background checks efficiently, discreetly and legally. They’re also well-versed in data protection laws and will handle all personal or financial information with the utmost care and confidentiality.

Get a Background Check from Global Investigations

If you need to run a background check for personal or business reasons, contact Global Investigations today. As one of the UK’s leading private detective agencies, we’ve conducted professional, comprehensive background checks for over 25 years. Our highly trained agents use cutting-edge techniques such as covert surveillance, online investigations and financial investigations to conduct thorough checks. 

While we cannot provide criminal record checks or DBS checks, we can offer valuable insights into a person’s character, history, and background. Our services complement official checks and can provide a more comprehensive understanding of an individual.

To discuss your background check needs, please fill out our online form or call us on 0800 073 3555. If you’re overseas, you can reach us on 0800 073 3555. Alternatively, email and we’ll get back to you promptly. All enquiries are treated with the strictest confidence.

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