Criminal convictions good practice for HE providers

Check out our good practice resources, to support you with changes to the criminal conviction question in the application.

What’s changed?

In 2019 , we made changes to the questions applicants have to answer about criminal convictions.

  1. We removed the requirement for all applicants to declare whether they have any relevant unspent criminal convictions.
  2. We only ask applicants who apply for certain courses – for example, those that involve work with children and vulnerable adults, such as medicine, teaching, or social work – to declare whether they have any criminal convictions, including spent convictions. This question will only appear if an applicant is applying for one of these courses.

Good practice resources

This change required universities and colleges to assess their position and review their policies and procedures in this area. To support this, we’ve produced some good practice resources, in collaboration with the charity Unlock. In May 2018, we invited universities and colleges to register their interest in participating in this work – as a result, we worked closely with Cardiff University, the University of Exeter, the University of Southampton, and the University of York.

To support you with these changes, we produced the following resources – we hope you find them useful.

Good practice for providers

An overview of changes for the 2019 entry cycle, what this means for applicants, and how providers are responding.

  •  Good practice guide (4.58 MB), highlighting the principles that can underpin a provider’s criminal convictions policy, under which contexts it is appropriate to ask an applicant about their criminal convictions, and what questions can be asked. 
  •  A detailed briefing from Unlock on the criminal justice system (227.44 KB) provides information and guidance to universities and colleges considering whether and/or how to ask applicants about their criminal record. This includes the distinctions between spent and unspent convictions, the role of the criminal justice system for the small number of people who have recent convictions for serious offences, and how to support students with criminal records to be successful in higher education. 
  •  Supporting scenarios (344.91 KB): we invited higher education providers to submit scenarios for consideration by the good practice working group. This document outlines the scenarios and the suggested response to each situation.
  •  A flowchart to support the good practice guide (1.35 MB) helps you formulate your position on asking applicants for information about their criminal convictions, and provides you with a list of considerations to make when establishing this.
  • Case studies (257.39 KB) – in 2023 UCAS collected case studies from universities to highlight good practice. These showcase a student-centric approach and a commitment to providing fair opportunities for applicants with criminal convictions. 

Criminal convictions seminar – in June 2018, we hosted a criminal convictions seminar, which explored the changes in more detail.

Admissions and compliance staff from universities and colleges were invited to hear from experts, including representatives from Unlock, Prisoners' Education Trust, and The Longford Trust, about their work with individuals with convictions. Attendees also heard first-hand the experiences and reflections of a student who applied to higher education with a conviction. Delegates then discussed how they were responding to these changes, and input into shaping the good practice resources.

In case you missed it, you can watch recordings of the workshops which took place. Click on ‘Related videos’ to view all available playbacks.

To help providers with evaluation and effective practice, the Office for Students has published a briefing on people with criminal convictions – read the briefing.

The ICO view

What the ICO has to say about processing data related to criminal convictions.

View all related videos from this session

We would appreciate your feedback on these resources. Please email the Customer Success Team at

Thanks to those involved

We would like to thank the following for their help and support in the production of these good practice resources:

  • Amy Starling – Admissions Operations Manager, Cardiff University
  • Christopher Stacey – Co-director, Unlock – for people with convictions
  • Dan Shaffer – Consultant, Independent Admissions Guidance
  • Glyn Lloyd – Head of Student Support, Cardiff University
  • Kim Hearth – Policy Officer, University of Exeter
  • Natalie Gordon – Admissions Compliance Officer, University of York
  • Nicky Stecker-Doxat – Education Policy Development Manager, University of Southampton
  • Sally Rutterford – Head of Admissions, Cardiff University

We’d also like to thank the Prisoner’s Education Trust for their continued support in this area.