Should you hire someone with a criminal history?

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Some people have a criminal record from a lifestyle theyve long left behind.

Should you give them a chance?

According to The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), over 20% of the UK’s working age population has a criminal record, and often can’t find work because of it.

“There’s a strong stigma attached to anyone with a previous conviction against their name, even a minor one,” says Chris Birtle, sales manager at financial recruiters Heat Recruitment.

But in most cases a criminal record doesn’t mean that someone is dangerous or likely to reoffend. Often, they offended once when young and are now trying to lead productive, law-abiding lives.

Understanding spent and unspent convictions

A conviction, caution, reprimand or warning that a person receives is held on the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)  and Police National Computer.

A spent conviction becomes spent when a set period of time has passed, and is therefore removed from a person’s criminal record. This time will be based on the sentence given in court.

Unspent convictions have not yet reached the defined period, and will appear on a DBS check.

If you were under 18 where the offence occurred, the time period for spent may be shorter.

Second chances

Ian Perkins, managing director at Inside Out Ventures, helps ex-offenders find sustainable employment. He says: “A person shouldn’t be judged on their past. People make mistakes and then do all they can to rectify their actions. When ex-offenders are given a chance, they often work harder, are loyal and passionate.”

Actually, employers cannot lawfully turn someone down for a job because they have been convicted of an offence if the conviction is “spent” under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974. “And, under the Act, job applicants are not required to disclose spent convictions,” says Kevin Charles, consulting barrister at Crossland Employment Solicitors.

However, the ROA doesn’t apply to professions such as chartered and certified accountants, and to “controlled function” roles within the broader financial services industry requiring approval by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Charles explains: “In these circumstances, an employer can ask a candidate about both spent and unspent convictions. They can turn an applicant down if a DBS criminal records check shows that the person is not suitable for the role, and if the FCA decide they are not ‘fit and proper’.”

Birtle points out that if the candidate has been previously found guilty of fraud or money laundering, it’s highly unlikely they would get FCA approval to work within a “controlled function”.

AAT policy

The ROA does apply to AAT roles and so applicants do not need to declare spent criminal convictions, or any road traffic offence which was dealt with by way of fixed penalty notice.

However, AAT’s policy on unspent criminal convictions is very robust. AAT deal with them on a case by case basis, assessing whether an individual is a “fit and proper” person to enter the profession.

AAT will normally reject an application for membership (whether applying to be a student, associate member, full member, fellow member or to hold an AAT licence ) from an applicant with an unspent criminal conviction for:

  • Serious organised crime, including drug offences, human trafficking and immigration offences, and/or offences under the Terrorism Act 2000
  • Financial crime, including money laundering offences, fraud and theft
  • Dishonesty, and
  • Abuse of position.

Birtle says: “It comes down to whether the individual is trustworthy to work in financial services. Drink driving, for example, is an offence with little bearing on trustworthiness in finance. The same applies to a conviction for ‘disturbing the peace’. Neither should be a barrier to advising clients on financial matters.”

Non-finance roles

Finance roles aside, would you hire someone with an unspent conviction for an office admin job?

Rachel Balchin, director at Bulldog Accounting, says it depends. She would consider applicants who have committed a one-off offence as a result of bad judgement, which doesn’t hint at recurring behavioural issues. “So something like a drugs or a driving offence, or being involved in an altercation – a mistake that led to a one-off criminal record rather than a pattern of intentional harm caused to others,” she says.

But theft or fraud? Balchin says: “No way. I would not be comfortable with someone who had that kind of history potentially having access to personal client data. Hiring someone who is convicted of taking what isn’t theirs, or ripping people off, is not a great idea even for an admin role.”

Criminal record checks

Balchin doesn’t currently have any staff but she says in future she will definitely consider carrying out a DBS criminal records check.

There are several levels of checks available to employers, and it’s important to know the level of disclosure for which a given role is eligible.

Basic Disclosures (Basic checks) can be carried out for roles that are covered by the ROA. This applies to AAT member roles and to office admin jobs. Basic Disclosures contain details of only unspent convictions or cautions.

Standard or Enhanced Disclosure checks, which contain details of all convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings, can only be done for roles exempt from the ROA, as explained above.

Employers must ensure that job applicants are notified in advance of the requirement for a disclosure. “Employment documentation, such as an offer letter, should also make it clear that any offer of employment is conditional upon a satisfactory DBS check,” Charles says.


Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

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