The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act has changed for the first time in forty years and the main changes may be relevant to those involved in providing information, advice or support to people with convictions and/or dealing with applications for housing.
The Act aims to give those with convictions or cautions the chance – in certain circumstances – to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. For most purposes the 1974 Act treats a rehabilitated person as if he or she had never committed, been charged, prosecuted, convicted or sentenced for an offence and, as such, are not required to declare their spent caution(s) or conviction(s). Examples are when applying for most jobs or insurance, some educational courses and housing applications.
Under the Act, eligible convictions or cautions become “spent” after a specified period of time known as the “rehabilitation period”, the length of which varies depending on how the individual concerned was dealt with. Prison sentences of over 4 years are excluded and can therefore never become spent however the MoJ advises that the following sentences are exempt from the Act and can therefore never become ‘spent’, regardless of the actual length of the sentence or the time served in custody:
- Sentence of imprisonment for life
- Sentence of imprisonment, youth custody, detention in a young offender institution or corrective training of over four years
- Sentence of preventive detention
- Sentence of detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure or for life
- Sentence of custody for life
The rehabilitation periods for other types of sentence vary according to whether the person was cautioned or convicted and, if the latter, the type of sentence imposed. Rehabilitation periods will generally be shorter for offenders aged under 18 when they were convicted. Once the conviction or caution becomes spent, the offender is regarded as rehabilitated and (for most purposes) is treated as if he/she had never committed the offence. However, there are a number of exceptions to this general approach., for example, for some types of employment a person can be required to disclose details of both unspent and spent convictions or cautions.
Official new guidance has been published following the implementation of changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act included in the Legal Aid and Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and can be downloaded from.