Civil service to "ban the box" to help rehabilitate ex-convicts, David Cameron announces

Prime minister unveils moves to scrap declaration of criminal convictions in initial application stage - as Whitehall's new chief people officer Rupert McNeil stresses that safety checks will remain in place

By matt.foster

08 Feb 2016

Applicants to civil service jobs will no longer have to declare unspent criminal convictions, David Cameron has announced.

Unveiling a raft of prison reform measures on Monday, the prime minister said that he wanted government departments to set an example to the private sector in not discriminating against convicts in the initial stages of their applications — although Whitehall’s chief people officer Rupert McNeil has made clear that pre-appointment checks will remain in place.

Cameron told the Policy Exchange think tank: “I want businesses and organisations to know who they are interviewing — if a conviction is unspent, they need to know about it and make the right decision for them.

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“Here’s my question: should offenders have to declare it upfront, before first sift of the CVs, before they have been able to state their case?

“Or might they be able to declare it a little later, at interview stage before an offer is made? They have done this in America - it is called Ban The Box. 

“And I want to work with businesses - including the many who have already signed up to the business in the community campaign - to see if we can do this here. And because I believe in leading by example I can announce today that every part of the civil service will be banning the box in these initial recruitment phases.”

Civil service job application forms regularly ask candidates to declare unspent convictions, and it is this stage of the process that is being eliminated, according to civil service CPO Rupert McNeil.

He said the government wanted to “remove barriers for all individuals, including ex-offenders”, but also stressed that measures to ensure public safety would continue.

McNeil: “As a senior leader in this organisation, I do recognise that we also have a duty of care to our staff and the members of the public that we serve. 

“The civil service will still ask about criminal convictions during the recruitment process, but we will do this after the initial application form stage. 

“We recognise there may be some roles with specific security requirements and these will be exempt from this approach: for example roles in law enforcement such as prison officers. 

“Our safeguards will also remain, which require all offenders to declare certain previous convictions when applying for jobs in sensitive areas, such as working with children and others in vulnerable circumstances. 

“This announcement will not change any security procedures and we will still be operating in line with Government Security Secretariat requirements.”

Under current, Whitehall-wide pre-appointment checks, all successful applicants to civil service posts are vetted for unspent convictions, identity, nationality and immigration status, and employment history, before a formal offer of employment can be made. Civil servants working with vulnerable groups are also subject to stringent Disclosure and Barring Security (DBS) checks, which disclose spent and unspent convictions.

Cameron’s announcement has been welcomed by Unlock, a charity set up to support people with convictions. The organisation said the proposals, which follow similar moves late last year by Barack Obama’s US administration, were a “huge step forward” and urged the civil service “to encourage other employers” to do the same.

Spokesperson Christopher Stacey added: "The civil service represents a significant employer and this news is a welcome boost to the employment prospects of the millions of people with a criminal record.

"There's no reason why any role should be closed off to banning the box and we look forward to ensuring that the civil service implement the prime minister's commitment alongside a number of other measures to make it a fairer and more inclusive employer towards people with convictions."

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