Spent or Unspent? The maze of trying to work out the answer…

Eppie Sprung, Next Chapter Scotland
February 6, 2024

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is a piece of legislation that is designed to allow people, who have not committed offences for a long time, to be considered rehabilitated. It outlines when you  need to disclose your conviction and when you no longer have to.  

Immediately after your conviction, it will need to be disclosed. This is referred to as “unspent”.  

For most people, after enough time has passed since your offence, you no longer need to disclose it. This is when it is considered “spent”.  

Unlock (an absolutely brilliant organisation working in England and Wales to build a fairer future for people with criminal records) have developed an online tool that should help you to work out whether your conviction is spent or not: https://unlock.org.uk/disclosure-calculator/

It all sounds straight-forward enough right? Maybe it is for some people, but not for me!

I have spent the past 10 years believing that my conviction would never be “spent”.  I think I was left with that impression after my involvement with social work following my offence.  I’m pretty sure that is what I was told but, as a lot of that time period is a blur in my memory, I can’t be 100% certain where I picked up that belief.  I did, however, have it so clearly solidified in my understanding that I had never bothered to look into it myself.  It was just something I had taken on board as fact and then retained.

Around the 10-year anniversary of my conviction I was contacted by one of my insurers to tell me they were reassessing my cover, as my conviction was now spent.  I told them that it was the kind of conviction that was never spent.  They double checked with their underwriter and said, as far as they were concerned, it was definitely spent.

So there I was, wondering whether there was a chance that I was misremembering or had been given incorrect information… and I started down the rabbit hole of trying to interpret the legislation for myself.

I’m going to save you the gory details and basically say that trying to decipher legislation is an absolute nightmare! It’s written in legalese… has modifications… has rules and then exceptions to those rules… has additional guidance that sits alongside it… and then you have the added complication of trying to apply it to Scotland. Suffice to say, I didn’t get much clarity.

Then I had a chat with a solicitor friend who agreed that it was ridiculously difficult to interpet.

Between us we came to the conclusion that, although my conviction IS one of the convictions that “must be disclosed” to an employer through the PVG scheme or disclosures in Scotland, it is NOT one of the convictions excluded from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.  

Given this information, I now think I’ve been disclosing my conviction for 9 years longer than I should have been! I’ll be writing separately about insurance but it’ll be in insurance premiums that I’ll have mostly been affected by this. I’ve been paying 3 times more for home, motorbike and business insurance than other people, thanks to the disclosure of an “unspent” conviction.  It’s so frustrating!!

Although, I think the most frustrating part is that I’m still not 100% certain. I’ll happily argue the rationale of the conclusion I’ve reached with an insurer if I ever need to, but I wish the legislation / guidance was clearer or that there was a service in Scotland that could tell me a definitive answer on the subject.

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