There is little specific support for people with criminal records who are looking for employment. However, it’s important to know that you can still seek help from general services that are available to anybody who is looking for work. You will need to make sure that you fully understand what the practical implications of having a criminal record are in terms of your prospects of gaining employment.

Simply having a criminal record does not prevent you from getting a job. In a limited number of cases, certain convictions may prevent you from working in certain roles, but, you are likely to already know about this if it applies to you.

What to disclose to support agencies

The job centre and other agencies that are trying to help people back into work might ask you whether you’ve got a criminal record. Many people see this as a barrier and aren’t keen to voluntarily disclose their conviction to any government organisation/department.

If you’re not asked then, legally, you don’t need to disclose unspent convictions, but withholding this information means that your advisor may not be able to provide you with the best information, advice or service. Generally, we suggest that it’s better to be honest with those trying to help you find work – so long as they know what to do in terms of what does and doesn’t need to be disclosed to a potential employer.

By voluntarily disclosing your criminal record, you’re placing a lot of trust in your advisor. However all advisors are bound by job centre confidentiality policies and the Data Protection Act. Most advisors will welcome your honesty – it will make their job much easier and hopefully help you both establish a good working relationship.

Why do we suggest you be honest with support agencies?

Some employers have blanket bans on the recruitment of people with unspent convictions and if you haven’t disclosed to your advisor and they believe you have the necessary skills and experience, then you’ll usually be expected to apply. In this situation, if your conviction is unspent, applying would be a waste of both their time and yours but, if you refuse, you may be sanctioned and lose your benefits for a while. If you disclose your unspent conviction to your advisor you can potentially avoid situations such as this.

Any job which is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will require you to disclose both spent and unspent convictions (unless they are filtered) if the employer asks. So, if you’re applying for these types of jobs, you may want to consider disclosing your spent conviction to your advisor so they can steer you away from applying for these types of jobs if you wouldn’t be happy disclosing it. Don’t forget – there’s no rule that says you can’t apply for these – but some people prefer to only apply for jobs where they don’t need to disclose.

If you’ve only got a spent conviction, make sure your advisor understands that you won’t need to disclose them for the majority of jobs that you’ll be applying for.

When might you withhold details?

Some people have had bad experiences with job centres and support agencies. They’re maybe been brushed off or put on the “too hard to help” pile, and maybe they’ve disclosed information to employers when they shouldn’t have.

If you’re only applying for jobs where your criminal record won’t come up (for example, jobs in supermarkets and your record is spent) then you don’t legally need to disclose to the employer, so there’s an argument to say you don’t need to disclose to the support agency either.

National organisations specifically helping people with a criminal record

In addition to what is below, you should view the section of this site that details those organisations that can help with disclosure issues.

Jobcentre Plus (JCP)

Jobcentre Plus is the place to start to find employment. Simply because you have a criminal conviction does not mean you cannot use the resources of Jobcentre Plus. The main source of information and advice about employment and training is the Jobcentre Plus network. As well as administering the benefits system, Jobcentre Plus offices provide a range of services to help people get into work, education or training and are often responsible for commissioning local/regional services specifically for people with convictions. They provide online jobspoints in libraries and some supermarkets as well as their offices. Jobspoints provide details of thousands of job vacancies around the country.

The Work Programme

The Work Programme is the Government’s main ‘Welfare to Work ‘programme. The Work Programme is delivered by a number of organisations, private companies and charities on behalf of Government.

If you disclose to the Job Centre that you have a criminal record (you do not have to disclose if you don’t want to), you can volunteer to get access to the Work Programme after claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance for 3 months, or you will be mandated onto it after 9 or 12 months of claiming JSA, depending on your age.

Since March 2012, if you are released from prison and claim Jobseekers Allowance within 13 weeks of release, you will be mandated onto the Work Programme. This means that many Work Programme providers will begin to do in-reach work in prisons for people due for release. As a result, there may be overlap with the NOMS/CFO providers (see above) who help those near to release and after release.

To find out who is responsible for the Work Programme in your area, and to see what they can offer to help you, speak to your local Job Centre .

NOMS/ESF Co-financing programme

This is a national programme which specifically helps people in prison and those in the community that have recently been sentenced or released from prison. It is managed by the NOMS Co-financing Organisation. The current programme runs between 2014 and 2020.

To be eligible, you must be resident in the UK with permission to work, and over 16 years of age. You must also either be:

  • Serving a custodial sentence (with up to three years left to serve)
  • Completing a community sentence
  • On licence
  • Released from prison and not on any licence conditions, as long as you’re signed up to the programme within 12 weeks of release from prison

Generally, you have to be referred onto the programme. The help that is available depends on the area that you live. Generally speaking, there is support available to help you to improve your employability – this can include helping with CV’s, disclosure, work placements, volunteering and education/qualifications.

One thing that all of the providers have is a Discretionary Access Fund. The discretionary access fund allows for the spot purchasing of courses or goods to support people into work. Part of this fund will be used to expand and develop additional vocational training provision in prisons and to provide more opportunities for participants to work directly with employers in a dedicated training environment. This discretionary fund can also be used by providers to help you overcome specific barriers to work such as travel (to an interview, to work), pay for childcare or equipment required for the job.

You should contact your probation officer and give them your details to see if you’re eligible and who you should speak to. If you don’t have their details, contact NOMS CFO.

The National Careers Service

The National Careers Service provides information, advice and guidance to help you make decisions on learning, training and work opportunities.  The service offers confidential and impartial advice.  This is supported by qualified careers advisers.

Employment support in prison

Jobcentre Plus Employment and Benefit Surgeries should be available in all prisons that require the service. When you enter prison, you should be seen by an EBS adviser, who will assist you in closing your benefit claims and ensuring you receive any outstanding monies. The adviser should also take action to retain an individuals employment where appropriate and provide a ‘signposting’ role in relation to other issues such as accommodation. Prior to release, the EBS advisers should meet with you to explore job opportunities available to you and discuss any education and training needs. By concentrating on your particular circumstances the adviser should be able to signpost you to the relevant help that Jobcentre Plus provides. They should also provide you with information about working age benefits to assist in reducing the finance gap you may face on release.

There are also a range of employment programmes that operate in prisons, including some of those mentioned in this section already. Others include programmes by the National GridSummit Media, and Inside Job Recruitment.