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Do I have to declare my criminal record

This advice applies to Scotland

On this page you can check the basic rules about when you have to declare your criminal records and which checks can be made by an employer. You can also find out about the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme which is a special scheme for people who work or volunteer with children or vulnerable adults. 

Do I have to declare my criminal record

Past convictions and getting a job

Before you're offered a job an employer is legally entitled to ask about convictions you've had. An employer can usually only get limited information about your criminal record. If the work you are going to do is in an occupation when the employer has to make sure you are a 'safe' person to offer the job to, for example, if you are a teacher or doctor, a full record of past convictions can be supplied to the employer.

Convictions or behaviour before you were 12 years old

There are special rules about disclosure of convictions and behaviour that happened before you were 12 years old. 

You can find out the rules about disclosure of behaviour under 12 years old on

Spent and unspent convictions on your criminal record

When you have a criminal record you may have 'spent' and 'unspent' convictions or cautions. 

You have to let a certain amount of time pass, called a 'disclosure period', before your conviction becomes 'spent'. The time period for the conviction to become spent is set out in law and until that time passes your conviction is 'unspent'. 

You don't have to tell a new employer about a conviction if it is 'spent'. You might choose to, but you don’t have to, unless you are in one of the excluded or excepted occupations, for which spent convictions have to be declared (for example a medical doctor).

Some criminal records can never become 'spent' because the conviction is thought to be very serious and one that a prospective employer should always be able to find out about if it is relevant to the work being offered to you.

A declaration about a criminal record is called a 'disclosure'.

If you want more information about disclosures and when a conviction becomes 'spent' you can get more help from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

If you don't declare (disclose) an 'unspent' conviction, a job offer could be withdrawn or an employer may take steps to dismiss you if you've already started in the post. Find out more about dismissal.

When is the conviction spent

If you have been in prison, a young offender's institution or had a custodial sentence deferred, the conviction becomes spent:

Length of sentence Aged 18 or over when convicted Aged 12 - 17 when convicted
12 months or less term of sentence plus 2 years term of sentence plus 1 year
More than 12 months and up to 30 months term of sentence plus 4 years term of sentence plus 2 years
More than 30 months and up to 48 months term of sentence plus 6 years term of sentence plus 3 years
48 months or more Can't be spent Can't be spent

If you have been sentenced by a court with a fine, community service, probation, community payback order, compensation order, drug treatment and testing order or restriction of liberty order the conviction is spent:

  • aged 18 or over when convicted - after 12 months or the length of the order whichever is the longer
  • aged 12 - 17 when convicted - 6 months or the length of the order whichever is the longer.

If a court decides that you are to be given an absolute discharge or admonished there is no disclosure period. These sentences do not have to be declared.

Pardons and disregards

The Scottish Government has pardoned all men who were historically convicted of same-sex sexual activity. This means they are not guilty of the offence, but the conviction will still appear on official records and for example, an 'enhanced disclosure' check by Disclosure Scotland.

Anyone, including trans women and non-binary people, can apply to have the conviction removed from their records. This is called applying for a disregard

You can't be pardoned or get a disregard for anything that is still illegal. 

You can find out more, including how to apply for a disregard on the website

Disclosure checks you or an employer can apply for

Disclosure Scotland provides three different types of disclosure for work or volunteering:

  • a basic disclosure can be used for any purpose. It provides a statement about any unspent convictions against your name
  • a standard disclosure can be used to assess your suitability for a job because it provides a list of all unspent convictions against your name and some spent convictions
  • an enhanced disclosure contains all unspent convictions, some spent convictions and any other non-conviction information considered to be relevant by the police or other Government bodies. This can be applied for if you'd be working or volunteering with children or adults. In some jobs working with children or adults you may have to be in the PVG Scheme because Disclosure Scotland can then monitor any new criminal record that you get.

More information about types of disclosure and what happens if want to apply for a job in England or Wales on the website.

If you need further help about problems with a disclosure check, you could speak to an experienced adviser at a Citizens Advice Scotland - where to get advice.

Working or volunteering with children and vulnerable adults

If you're applying to work or volunteer with children or young people (under 18 years) and/or vulnerable adults, your employer is legally required to make background checks to find out about your criminal record if you have one. 

A disclosure check is likely to be needed as a minimum, but you may also have to join the PVG Scheme run by Disclosure Scotland.

The Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme

The PVG scheme is for people who undertake what is called 'regulated' work.

Regulated work with children often involves you having responsibility for a child unsupervised by anyone else who has responsibility for the child.

Regulated work with adults often takes place where care is provided on a one-to-one basis. If you're not sure if the work will be 'regulated', you should ask your employer or the organisation you volunteer for.

Background checks under the PVG scheme will be part of the assessment of your suitability when applying for a job or volunteering opportunity.

An application to join the PVG scheme is often made by you through the employer or voluntary organisation. There is more information about the PVG scheme and how to apply on the website.

How much will it cost to join the PVG scheme

It is up to an employer (irrespective of whether in the private or public sector) to decide if they pay the fees for staff who have to be part of the PVG scheme. Many organisations will pay the fees for their volunteers.

How long does it take to become a member of the PVG scheme

If you have no criminal convictions that would prevent you from joining the PVG scheme, you should receive your PVG certificate within a few weeks. If you have not heard further after a few weeks, you should contact Disclosure Scotland directly.

If you're refused membership of the PVG scheme

When Disclosure Scotland checks your criminal records and you have a conviction (whether 'spent' or not) which bars you from 'regulated' work, you won't be allowed to join the PVG scheme.

The organisation or employer will then be written to stating you cannot be a member of the PVG scheme. They should not be given the reason why because this would breach your confidentiality.

There is more information about disputing Disclosure Scotland decisions on the website.

If you need help challenging a PVG scheme decision, you could speak to an experienced adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Challenging vetting information sent to Disclosure Scotland

Information may be passed to Disclosure Scotland about a PVG scheme member. In some cases you could be put on a list and no longer be allowed to do 'regulated' work. You can challenge this and find out more on the website.

If you are self-employed

If you're self-employed and involved in 'regulated' work, for example individual music tuition to children, or providing one-to-one care in someone’s home, it may be in your interests to become a PVG scheme member. This way people who give you work will know that your criminal records have been checked.

You can choose not to join the PVG scheme.

The appendix below gives examples of things to consider when deciding if your work is regulated. If you want to be sure, you should always contact Disclosure Scotland.

Continuous checking of PVG scheme members

Once you're a member of the PVG Scheme, if you commit an offence that brings into question your suitability to work with a child or protected adult, Disclosure Scotland will be notified immediately. 

Depending on the type of offence committed, Disclosure Scotland might place you under consideration for being barred from working with either children or protected adults, or both. Conviction of serious offences like murder or rape result in being immediately barred.

Contact Disclosure Scotland

Disclosure Scotland
Tel: 0300 020 0040 (Monday to Thursday 9am to 4pm, Friday 9am to 3.30pm)

Find out more about call charges

Further information

The following organisations provide more information about disclosures and the PVG scheme:

  • holds all the relevant information for Disclosure Scotland, including the different types of checks and the PVG scheme
  • Volunteer Scotland has information about disclosure and the PVG scheme in voluntary settings.

Appendix about self-employment

Self-employment or volunteering and the PVG scheme

You might have questions about whether certain voluntary roles or self-employed occupations require membership of the PVG scheme. You can contact Disclosure Scotland to check if you need to be part of the PVG scheme. The nature of what is regulated work is not always easily defined. We have provided some guidance below, but you should always check with Disclosure Scotland in any instance.

Below are examples of self-employment or volunteering, explaining where PVG scheme membership may or may not be required.

Type of activityRegulated work and the PVG scheme
Taxi driver – normally regular school runs Anyone who regularly transports children without other adults or transports vulnerable adults could be doing regulated work. At a minimum the employer should seek a disclosure check. If the taxi driver is self-employed, it's up to them to decide whether or not they should join the PVG scheme.
Childminder Childminders must register with the Care Inspectorate and have a PVG check.
School and nursery teachers Most teachers have to be PVG scheme members.
Self-employed tutors or teachers of children Teachers and tutors of this category can choose to be a PVG member.
Children's group leaders, for example, the Girl Guides, Scouts and Boy’s Brigade, church creche As long as there's an opportunity for the paid adult leaders or volunteers to have one-to-one unsupervised contact with someone under 18, both the staff and the volunteers should have had disclosure checks. This might include being a PVG member.
Sports coach volunteer Sports coaching is a difficult area to explain in terms of the PVG scheme. If someone is coaching children by arrangement with the parents of a child or group of children this is not regulated work.
Dentist Dentists must belong to the PVG scheme.
Medical doctor Doctors must normally be PVG members in the NHS, but may not be required to belong to the PVG scheme if there's no opportunity for one-to-one consultations involving personal examinations.
Window cleaner A window cleaner may have to be a PVG member if windows inside a building which accommodates vulnerable people gives the cleaner time alone with a protected adult or child.
Masseur or physiotherapist Someone working with vulnerable adults or people under 18 must be a PVG scheme member.
Lifeguard in a swimming pool Most life guards in public pools will not need to be PVG members because this isn't considered regulated work. If a life guard works in a private agency and provides one-to-one swimming tuition, it's likely that they'll need to belong to the scheme.
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