I was convicted of assisting another person in claiming housing benefit. I admitted the charge at the first opportunity and took full responsibility for my actions. I received a suspended prison sentence.
Although this resulted in a life changing turn of events, I have tried to stay positive. Up until my conviction, I’d always been a hard working, law abiding member of society. I was fully aware that gaining employment with a conviction would be difficult but I never gave up hope and chased every job I came across which I thought I might be suitable for.
Eventually, I applied for a part time customer services role. I was asked to send my CV and a week or so later, I received an email asking me to attend an interview. I prepared a disclosure letter and my Job Centre advisor had a look at it for me to make sure it was OK.
On the day of the interview, I was first taken to a room with a member of staff and asked to complete numerous forms one of which was an application form for a DBS check. It was explained to me that the DBS check would be an enhanced one, the certificate would be sent to my home and I would then be responsible for handing it over to the employer. I detailed my conviction on the form and handed over my disclosure letter at the same time.
The member of staff told me that all the completed forms would be placed in a sealed envelope and the only ones which would be opened would be the ones belonging to successful candidates. I asked her what my chances were of gaining employment and was told “it all depends on the person who opens the pack and whether they feel your offences are serious enough or not”. I was then taken into another room where I had my formal interview.
Two weeks passed and I received a phone call telling me that I’d been successful and that they would like to offer me a full time rather than a part time position. I was speechless. I had tried and tried for over a year to get a job and hadn’t even got as far as an interview. I felt my life had finally turned a corner and I could now move forward. Happy was an understatement to how I felt at that time. However, a few days before I was due to start work, I started to doubt the offer and I started to worry that my disclosure letter hadn’t been seen and that my new employers might not be aware of my conviction. I spoke to my friends and the Job Centre Advisor and they all told me that everything would be OK.
I spent the first three weeks training, getting to know systems and learning what was expected of me. I started to build up really good working relationships with my colleagues in my team and in the group as a whole. On my third week, I was made aware that there was a delay in DBS certificates being returned due to the large number of new recruits that the company were taking on. I was told that immediately I received my certificate I needed to take it in to HR so that I would be able to ‘go live on the phones’. Another two weeks passed and there was still no sign of my certificate and I was asked to track its progress online.
Every day I went into work I felt more uneasy and nervous especially as I’d never had any confirmation that my disclosure letter had been seen or been asked any questions by my employers about my conviction. I started to feel like a fraud around my work colleagues, I wanted to tell them about my convictions so they’d know the real me, but my friends advised me not to – they told me ‘its in the past, don’t let one mistake define you’. So I did nothing until the four remaining people who hadn’t received their DBS certificates were called in to see the Head of HR together with members of the senior management team. We were told that our contracts would be terminated immediately if it were found that we had been holding onto our DBS certificates, in the hope of getting a couple of extra weeks pay due to the non-disclosure of a criminal record. I felt sick to my stomach.
After the meeting I asked if I could speak to the HR Manager in private and I set out all my concerns and worries to her. She told me that she would look into it and get back to me. I can’t describe my relief, finally I could relax and start enjoying my new job. A couple of days later one of the senior managers told me that the DBS were ‘rushing’ through my check and the company’s solicitor would then make a decision about whether I was able to continue in the role.
My DBS certificate eventually arrived on the door mat and I contacted my Line Manager to let her know that I’d received it. The next day I handed the certificate over and tried to find out how soon a decision would be made. As the day progressed, my emotions were getting the better of me and I approached my senior manager to ask if there was any news. Just before I left for the evening, she asked me if she could have a private ‘word’.
Once in the room, I was told that my contract was being terminated and that they would need to let me go immediately. I developed an overwhelming lump in my throat and couldn’t say a word, I just nodded as the manager asked me if I understood the reasons for their decision. I was asked to hand over my security pass and told that I would be escorted off the premises by a member of the security team. I have no memory of how I got home that day but as soon as I entered the house I broke down in disbelief.
Its been weeks now since this happened to me. I have slowly had time to process the whole ordeal. I really do think people should be made aware of how unfairly people with past convictions are treated. I was trying to rebuild my life and move forward, I was honest from the start but the outcome was I was made to feel as though I’d committed a further offence and being escorted off the premises by a security guard left me totally humiliated.
How is there any hope of gaining employment when this is the sort of treatment people with convictions face?
By Paula (name changed to protect identity)
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