Employers too often ‘overlook’ candidates with criminal records, government told

Charities intensify calls to stop use of blanket screening questions on job applications

Employers “too often” discount job applicants with a criminal record before even considering their suitability for the role, the government has been advised. 

The Cabinet Office had been running a consultation on supporting ex-offenders into employment. That consultation closed for feedback last Friday

In its submission, Unlock criticised the use of questions asking potential employees to ‘tick a box’ if they have a criminal record, noting such practices were being used by organisations to “deselect” candidates and offered them no chance to explain or add any context. It added the practice also led to those with past convictions self-selecting out of certain roles. 

“Too often, employers overlook skills, experience and qualifications if an applicant declares they have a criminal record,” the submission continued. “Employers – supported by government – should ban the box as the first step to recruiting the best candidates for their jobs.”

The charity added its own research had found more than two-thirds of large employers ask applicants whether they have a criminal record in the first stages of the recruitment process. 

In 2013, Business in the Community (BITC), partnering with Unlock and Nacro, launched the ‘Ban the Box’ campaign, urging employers to drop questions asking potential employees to tick a box if they have a criminal record. Since then, more than 100 employers have signed up.

“We believe screening based on a tick box is not an effective way of excluding inappropriate applicants and we can’t assume that everybody with a criminal conviction poses a risk,” BITC wrote in its consultation submission. “A successful organisation needs to take a long-term view, looking for the potential offered by candidates from a variety of walks of life, rather than recruiting in your own image.”

Meanwhile, in their joint submission, charity Clinks and the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance identified a “need for recognition of and investment in training and support that ensures people [are] job-ready for roles in a range of sectors” and called on “large voluntary and arts organisations’ to adopt ban the box principles”. 

A 2016 YouGov survey revealed 50 per cent of employers would not consider hiring an ex-offender, while 45 per cent of businesses felt ex-offenders would be unreliable employees. 

Parliament has also considered the issue of employment for those with convictions. In 2016, a work and pensions select committee report suggested reducing national insurance contributions to incentivise those employing ex-offenders.

However, in its submission, Unlock mentioned it did not like the term ‘ex-offenders’. The charity added it felt the terminology implied somebody with a lengthy illicit past who had served a custodial sentence, when many people with a criminal record had just the one conviction and had not spent time in prison. According to the charity, more than 11 million people in the UK have a criminal record. 

Unlock has also recently intervened in a Supreme Court case concerning how criminal records are disclosed to potential employers. The country’s top court heard the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for those with multiple convictions and certain specified offences could be infringing people’s right to private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice announced today it would be launching a consultation on giving prison governors more power to incentivise prisoners who take responsibility for their rehabilitation, such as taking part in employment programmes.