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Criminal records are kept by the police to retain information on an individual’s criminal history. This article looks at what information police retain and how to apply to delete a criminal record. It also explains what a criminal records check is and when they are carried out.
What criminal record information do the police retain and for how long?
Criminal records information is held on two main systems:
- The Police National Computer (PNC) records details of convictions, cautions, reprimands, warnings and arrests.
- The Police National Database (PND) records “soft” local police intelligence, for example details of investigations that did not lead to any further action.
An individual’s record on the PNC is retained until their 100th birthday.
Intelligence on the PND will generally be retained for a minimum of six years; longer if it relates to allegations of a serious offence or if the individual concerned is considered to pose an ongoing risk.
How can an individual apply to have a criminal record on the PNC deleted?
Chief constables “own” the data that their force has entered onto the PNC. They can exercise their discretion, in exceptional circumstances, to delete non-court disposals (e.g. cautions) which are owned by them and held on the PNC, as well as any non-conviction outcome.
Individuals can apply for the removal of a record from the PNC using a form available on the website of the ACRO Criminal Records Office, a national police unit. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has issued guidance on the Record Deletion Process (PDF 524 KB). It says that there is no set criterion for the deletion of records and that it is for Chief Officers to exercise professional judgement based on the information available.
The form must be completed and sent (with proof of identity and any documentation to support the application) to the National Records Deletion Unit. The application will then be sent on to the relevant Chief Officer for a decision.
Applicants for deletion of a PNC record must base their application on the grounds set out in NPCC guidance. The guidance gives examples of circumstances in which deletion should be considered by a Chief Officer. These include:
- No Crime: Where it is established that a recordable crime has not been committed. For example, a sudden death where an individual is arrested at the scene and subsequently charged, but after post-mortem it is determined that the deceased person died of natural causes and not as a result of homicide.
- Malicious/False Allegation: Where the case against an individual has been withdrawn at any stage and there is corroborative evidence that the case was based on a malicious or false allegation.
- Proven Alibi: Where there is corroborative evidence that the individual has a proven alibi and as a result s/he is eliminated from the enquiry after being arrested.
- Suspect status not clear at the time of arrest: Where an individual is arrested at the outset of an enquiry, the distinction between the offender, victim and witness is not clear, and the individual is subsequently eliminated as a suspect (but may be a witness or victim).
Note that individuals with a court conviction cannot apply to have their records deleted under the records deletion process. Neither can an individual apply where an investigation into them, or court proceedings against them, remain ongoing.
What is a criminal records check and in what circumstances are they carried out?
Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, cautions, reprimands and warnings and some convictions become “spent” after a certain period of time. Once a record becomes spent it does not usually need to be declared to employers or voluntary organisations.
However, if a person applies for a so-called “excepted position”, then the prospective employer is entitled to ask for details of both spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings by way of a criminal records check conducted by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Excepted positions cover (for example) work with children or vulnerable adults, roles in certain licensed occupations or positions of trust.
What is disclosed in a criminal records check?
Four types of check are issued by the DBS: basic, standard, enhanced, and enhanced with barred list.
- A basic check shows unspent convictions and conditional cautions.
- A standard check contains details of all spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings (as held on the PNC) except those which, under the filtering rules (see below), should no longer be disclosed.
- An enhanced check includes the same information as a standard check together with local police intelligence.
- An enhanced with barred list check includes the same information as an enhanced check together with details of whether the individual concerned is on the lists maintained by the DBS of those barred from working with children and/or vulnerable adults.
The “filtering rules”
From 29 May 2013 some PNC information relating to old and minor convictions and cautions will be ‘filtered out’ and no longer appear on DBS certificates. The “filtering rules” are as follows:
For those aged 18 or over at the time of the offence:
An adult conviction will be removed from a DBS certificate if:
- 11 years have elapsed since the date of conviction; and
- it is the person’s only offence, and
- it did not result in a custodial sentence.
Even then, it will only be removed if it does not appear on the list of offences which will never be removed from a certificate. If a person has more than one offence, then details of all their convictions will always be included.
An adult caution will be removed after 6 years have elapsed since the date of the caution – and if it does not appear on the list of offences relevant to safeguarding.
For those aged under 18 at the time of the offence:
- The same rules apply as for adult convictions, except that the elapsed time period is 5.5 years.
- The same rules apply as for adult cautions, except that the elapsed time period is 2 years.
The list of specified offences, which will always be subject to disclosure, includes sexual and violent offences and other offences relevant to safeguarding.
The two types of enhanced check provide details of relevant and proportionate non-conviction information. Disclosure of such information is not automatic but is done on a case-by-case basis following the exercise of police discretion. The test the police use when deciding whether to disclose non-conviction information is whether the chief officer “reasonably believes it to be relevant” for the purpose of the check and whether in his or her opinion it ought to be included.
There is a statutory code designed to assist chief officers of police in making decisions about providing information from local police records for inclusion in enhanced criminal record certificates.
There is an appeal process available if an applicant believes that incorrect or irrelevant information on convictions has been included. There is information about this process on Gov.UK: DBS checks (previously CRB checks): Appeals and disputes.
Contacting the Disclosure and Barring Service
Constituents may contact DBS customer services using the details provided on GOV.UK: Contact the Disclosure and Barring Service.
Members and their staff may use the details given in Hotlines for MPs (PDF 980 KB), compiled by the organisation W4MP. This content is restricted to users with a Parliamentary account and these numbers are for the use of Members and their staff only.
The information on this page about disclosure relates to England and Wales. For information about the disclosure scheme in Scotland see the Disclosure Scotland website. For information about criminal record checks in Northern Ireland see AccessNI on the Northern Ireland government services website.
- The retention and disclosure of criminal records, Commons Library briefing
- The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, Commons Library briefing
- Telling people about your criminal record, GOV.UK
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.