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Emma O'Connor
Emma O'Connor,
Reforms to Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 – March 2014
12 March 2014

The government plans to cut the amount of time some offenders need to disclose details of ‘low level’ convictions. We report on these plans which came into force on 10 March.

What are the reforms?

From 10 March, there will be a change to the way some rehabilitation periods are set. For example, under the previous rules on disclosing previous convictions the time period runs from the start date of the sentence; however, under new plans the period after which convictions will become ‘spent’ will be the length of the sentence plus an additional period of time – referred to as a ‘buffer period’. Details of the new time periods where, in some circumstances, a conviction will be ‘spent’ are set out below:-

 For custodial sentences:

    Sentence length

 Previous rehabilitation period (Applies from start date  of conviction)

 New rehabilitation period is period of sentence plus  the 'buffer' period below which applies from the end  of the sentence

 0-6 months

 7 years

 2 years (including time on licence)

 6-30 months

 10 years

  4 years (including time on  licence)

 0 months – 4 years

 Never spent

 7 years (including time on  licence)

 Over 4 years 

 Never spent

  Never spent 


For non-custodial sentences:-

    Sentence length

 Previous rehabilitation  period

 New buffer period (will  apply from the end of the  sentence)

 Community order (&  Youth  Rehabilitation  Order)

 5 years

 1 year


 5 years

 1 year (from date of  conviction)

  Absolute discharge

 6 months


 Conditional discharge,  referral order, reparation  order, action plan order,  supervision order, bind  over order, hospital order 

 Varies depending on  nature  of the order

 Just the period of the order



As with the previous scheme, the above periods from 10 March are halved for persons under 18 years of age at the date of the conviction (except for custodial sentences of up to 6 months where the buffer period will be 18 months for persons under 18 at the date of the conviction).

Do the reforms apply to serious convictions or those working with children?

No - for occupations on the Exceptions Order (for example those working in schools, hospitals or with vulnerable people) applicants and employees have to disclosure unprotected cautions and convictions, regardless of whether they are ‘spent’ or ‘unspent’. The most serious of offenders will continue to have to declare their convictions for the rest of their lives. Similarly, those who have served 4 years or more in prison will still need to disclose their previous convictions in whatever occupation they are working in or applying for.


The aim of these changes is to allow some ex-offenders a chance to ‘wipe the slate clean’ quicker than under previous rules on ‘spent convictions’. The reason for this is policy driven - government evidence has indicated that those ex-offenders who are rehabilitated back into the community and find work are less likely to re-offend than those who do not. Employers – particularly in those excepted occupations – should continue to use the new Disclosure and Barring Service and keep checks up to date, making sure that continued employment is made subject to being able to work in such jobs.

For further information, please contact our Employment Team on 0118 952 7284 or submit an enquiry.

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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