In theory, if employers want to know whether job applicants have a criminal record, they should use the Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly known as the Criminal Records Bureau), which does not disclose any spent convictions. Employers have been known to circumvent this protection by insisting that applicants make a Data Protection Subject Access Record to get hold of their full criminal record (including spent convictions).
From last month, such a practice became unlawful. The newly in force section 56 of the Data Protection Act 1998 makes it a criminal offence to require job applicants (or existing employees) to produce a copy of their criminal record through a subject access request.
This follows changes last year significantly shortening rehabilitation periods under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.