What is a spent caution/conviction?
A spent conviction is a conviction which, under the terms of Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, can be effectively ignored after a specified amount of time.
The amount of time for rehabilitation depends on the sentence imposed, not on the offence. The more serious the conviction, the longer the period of rehabilitation. For example, if you have received a prison sentence of more than four years, the conviction will never become spent, but cautions become spent immediately (apart from conditional cautions which will become spent after three months).
The Act aims to rehabilitate offenders by not making their past mistakes affect the rest of their lives if they have been on the right side of the law for some time. For details of the length of time before a conviction becomes spent, see the NACRO website in 'related information'.
Unless applying for particular types of work (see below), a person who has spent convictions and cautions does not have to disclose them to prospective employers, and employers cannot refuse to employ someone on the basis of spent convictions.
However, when applying to work in certain types of employment, for example, working with children or vulnerable adults, certain professions such as law, health care, and pharmacy, senior management posts within certain sectors and employment where matters of national security are involved, the application form will state that it is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. In these situation, you may need to disclose your cautions and convictions, and they may be disclosed on your DBS criminal records check.
The law protects people from having some old and/or minor convictions and cautions disclosed to employers, but sexual and violent offences will always be disclosed, as well as any convictions that resulted in a custodial sentence, and all convictions if a person has more than one conviction. Regarding any other convictions and cautions: convictions are not shown after eleven years (in relation to persons 18 or over) or five and a half years (in relation to persons under 18), and cautions are not shown after six years (in relation to persons 18 or over) or two years (in relation to persons under 18).
In order to determine whether your caution/conviction needs to be disclosed and whether it will show on a DBS check, see this flow chart.
Please be aware that the information that police forces disclose may differ from the above and particularly in relation to enhanced disclosures, any information that the Chief Constable feels relevant with regards to the reason for the check, can be disclosed.