Is a change to the disclosure of criminal convictions in job applications coming to Durham?

Minor historic offences can blight entire careers and inhibit rehabilitation. In January, the Supreme Court ruled that the criminal records disclosure scheme was, in places, disproportionate.

Changing attitudes towards certain historic convictions could benefit Durham businesses by providing a wider talent pool.

As things stand, anyone with more than one conviction to their name can automatically have their criminal record disclosed during the recruitment process. This is regardless of how minor, or how long ago, the crimes were committed. It can hold a person back for their whole life.

Campaigners have highlighted the injustices that this blanket rule can create and called for reform. And now, the idea is gaining traction in the corridors of power. The home secretary has hinted that a law change to make the rules less absolute could follow January’s Supreme Court judgement.

It found that the rules are not in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights. Alison Schreiber from The HR Dept Durham looks at the impact on local employers.

Alison begins: “How useful is it really to ask a job applicant in black and white on a form whether they have a criminal record, before you’ve met them? Chances are, regardless of the circumstances a ‘yes’ will prejudice their application. They suffer a default rejection, and you might miss out on an excellent hire. That said for some roles, it is necessary for applicants to declare any previous convictions, like teachers.”

Recent research suggests that, on average, after seven to ten years, the risk of someone re-offending is no greater than someone who has a clean record committing a crime. Of course, some roles are so sensitive, and some crimes will be so severe or recent that they’re bound to have a material effect on a job application. Disclosure rules for these circumstances are not likely to be changed.

“Some employers are seeing benefits in waiting for the interview stage to ask about criminal convictions. This still leaves them free to reject the applicant if a criminal record makes them unsuitable.

But, by humanising the process, they also have the opportunity to find out more, and assess for certain whether a criminal record is relevant. In doing this, they may gain a competitive advantage by recruiting from a wider talent pool.