November 10th, 2021 | Sterling

Recruiting Ex-Offenders: The Answer to Todays Talent Shortage?

Employer and employee signing documents smiling

Recruiting ex-offenders can be daunting and challenging for employers who want to ensure they comply with the law, minimise any risk and hire the best person for the job. Yet over 11 million people in the UK have a criminal record – and historically out of all disadvantaged groups,  those with a criminal record are the least likely of all to be employed – with 50% of businesses saying they would not consider hiring this demographic in a survey conducted in 2016. With over 1.1 million job vacancies in the UK, are employers missing an opportunity  with this significant talent pool?

Employers often have a number of questions around how to recruit ex-offenders fairly and safely, in this blog we’ll aim to answer these by examining some of the key issues.

The criminal record checks process

Criminal record checks – also known as disclosures – play a vital role in background screening, but it is important to know when and how you can conduct a check on a candidate. In the UK there are three main types of criminal disclosures – basic, standard, and enhanced.

Carrying out a check is a relatively simple process, where the candidate provides their consent, the relevant responsible organisation or person applies to the authority, and the results are made available around two weeks later, but in many cases this process can be a lot quicker.

For employers considering criminal background checks, it’s important to understand the requirements of the job role and how background checks can provide the necessary, relevant information.  An assessment of the disclosure information should always be made on a case-by-case basis in order to determine if the information is relevant for the role and to the candidate’s ability to carry out their duties. If any red flags are found, the candidate should always have the opportunity to explain, for a more informed decision on the hiring outcome.

The commercial and ethical side of hiring ex-offenders

Many employers tend to err on the side of caution when recruiting ex-offenders, but this approach may be flawed. In a candidate-led market with many organisations looking to create more diverse workplaces, you cannot afford to ignore the potential that exists in the labour market. Research has suggested that 3 out of 4 people are comfortable buying from this demographic – yet the employment rate of ex-offenders in the UK is still low, with only 25% of men leaving prison into employment and 20% when it comes to women.

A common perception amongst employers is that hiring an ex-offender will be a negative experience, although this notion couldn’t be further from the realities of the research. For example, 40% of employers say that this has increased their employee diversity and 92% report that this has enhanced their reputation, helping to win new deals. The societal impacts are also clear to see such as the reduction in reoffending by up to 9%  

Minimising the risk

Employers need to ensure they have safeguards in place to minimise any risks. Confidentiality and honesty is key. However, at the heart of this, an organisation must have a policy of willingness and a desire to offer ex-offenders the opportunities – this encourages trusting relationships from the start. In addition, there are a number of steps you can take to recruit the right people and to minimise the risk, including having a written policy that is made available to applicants and ensuring all staff involved have the relevant training.

An organisation can ask individuals to voluntarily provide information about criminal convictions which have not been spent under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA), however a number of organisations are beginning to move away from this approach at the start of the hiring process – this is an area we’ll explore more. Once these convictions have been spent, an ex-offender can decline or legally withhold this information, unless the employer has special rights to ask for it. For example, the organisation in question may have a legal duty to ensure they don’t employ those who have previously committed sexual offences which may endanger children or vulnerable adults. In this case, an employer can verify the conviction information from a source such as the DBS or via a responsible organisation such as Sterling. If you still have questions about this, the charity NACRO have a number of  helpful criminal record resources.

Ban the Box campaigns

Ban the box, is a campaign that aims to level the playing field for those with convictions to compete for jobs.  The premise of the campaign is to encourage all UK employers to give people with criminal convictions a fair chance by removing the tick box from application forms that ask for criminal convictions and encouraging questions about criminal convictions later in the recruitment process. This allows employers to fairly assess those with criminal convictions, solely on their skills and suitability of the role, rather than past mistakes. The current campaign has over 150 employers signed up, extending to over 1 million roles and counting.  

Employing ex-offenders is a complex area, but there is a great deal of support out there from organisations such as NACROBITC, and Unlock – we also have a wealth of services and resources should you need additional advice in relation to your existing or future screening program.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.