Police Cautions, Penalty Notices, criminal charges and DBS checks

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Police Cautions, Penalty Notices, criminal charges and DBS checks


Police cautions are a formal warning given to those (aged over 10) who have committed a minor offence. The Police may give out a simple caution or a conditional caution (the latter requires you to fulfil certain conditions e.g. get treatment for a drug problem) but somebody must admit the offence to be given a caution. A person cannot be made to accept a caution but they may be charged for the offence if they choose not to accept the caution.  Reprimands and final warnings used to be forms of cautions given to under 18s but they were abolished in 2013 and are now treated as youth cautions. Simple cautions and youth cautions become “spent” immediately and conditional cautions become “spent” after 3 months.

A police caution is not the same thing as the caution given to those being questioned "under caution". In that situation the caution describes the rights that are read out to someone before they are questioned.  


Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs) were introduced as a quick, simple way for the police to deal with minor anti-social and nuisance type offences such as being drunk and disorderly in public or possessing cannabis. They are only given to over 18s and there are two levels of fines which increase if you do not pay on time. Neither PNDs nor cautions are technically convictions (as only Courts can convict) but they may appear on a DBS check or on other searches such a Police Certificate requested for a visa application. They may be used as evidence of character in any future civil/criminal court proceedings.


Information about accepting cautions:

Occasionally people do find themselves faced with the issue of whether to accept a police caution. We cannot advise you on what is best for your own individual circumstances but before accepting a police caution it is worth considering the following:


1.) You do not have to accept a police caution so get advice before making a decision from the Duty Solicitor/ legal representative/union representative. You should ask your legal adviser what the implications of accepting a caution are for your particular circumstances so that you can make an informed decision.

2.) By accepting a police caution you are admitting that you have committed the offence so do not accept a caution just to get out of the police station quickly!  NMC will not allow a discussion of the facts surrounding an event if a caution has been accepted. See below for a link to the RCN's policy and information on this area as it relates to the nursing profession.

3.) Cautions, PNDs or being charged with a criminal offence could impact your course. You are required by the University to report them to your Faculty immediately.


 Why do there seem to be different rules about what has to be disclosed when applying for courses /roles/jobs?

The reason for this is that the law tries to strike a balance between enabling reformed offenders to get back into work by not having to declare “spent” cautions / convictions, whilst acknowledging that there are roles and activities where it’s necessary for there to be complete disclosure in the interest of public safety. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) provides that after a specified period of time the majority of cautions / convictions become spent and the offender is treated as rehabilitated. So, an employer cannot refuse to give someone a job because s/he has a spent caution/conviction unless an exception applies.  The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 then sets out those exceptions where full disclosure is required. Even if the role falls within one of the listed exceptions there are still some cautions/convictions known as “protected cautions and convictions” which do not need to be declared. These are generally old and minor cautions/spent convictions:   


  • A caution is protected from disclosure 6 years after it was accepted (or 2 years if under 18 years when the caution was accepted)
  • A conviction is protected from disclosure after 11 years (or 5 ½ if under 18 on conviction) and only if it was a non-custodial sentence and the offender has no other convictions


But there are still some that will never be protected so you need to check on a case by case basis.


So, whether or not a caution / spent conviction has to be declared depends on 3 factors:


  • Whether or not the caution/conviction is spent, and
  • Whether the activity or role falls within the 1975 Exceptions Order, and
  • Whether the caution/conviction is protected 


For example, a person accepts a caution 2 years ago (when aged 19) and is applying for 2 jobs, the first where the Exceptions Order does not apply and one where it does. They will not have to declare their caution for the first role as the caution is spent and the job is not in the list of exceptions. The second job they apply for is at a children’s nursery where the role falls within the 1975 Exceptions Order. In that scenario, their caution does have to be declared, even though it’s spent, because it falls within the Exceptions Order.  There is no chance that the caution might have become protected because it isn’t over 6 years old.


Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks:


Students on professional courses such as nursing, social work and policing at Bucks New University have to make declarations as to good health and character which will require you to declare convictions, cautions, charges, PNDs etc. Policing courses/ careers usually involve even more extensive vetting so we strongly recommend that you read the guidance for your particular course in order to keep the University fully informed.  This applies to the declaration you make prior to starting your course and throughout your course.  In the event that you are not sure about what to declare then speak to your Personal tutor or one of the Student Union Welfare Advisers but our advice is, if in doubt, declare it.  It is much better to have an upfront discussion about an issue than to try and keep quiet and hope it will go unnoticed. Even if the actual issue surrounding the caution appears minor to you, trying to conceal its existence from the University and future employers may raise doubts as to your honesty and integrity.


Students who are on professional courses such as nursing, social work and policing for example, will need to go through vetting under the Disclosure and Barring Service. There are 3 different levels of disclosure, Basic, Standard and Enhanced.

  • Basic disclosures show up unspent convictions and conditional cautions only
  • Standard disclosures show up any unprotected convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings whether spent or not  
  • Finally, an Enhanced Disclosure will include all of the above plus any other information which the police “reasonably believe is relevant and ought to be included” i.e. “soft “information.


Please read this:  This leaflet is not legal advice and should be used as an outline guide only. The ROA applies in England, Scotland and Wales but there are some differences in how the law is applied in Scotland so use this as guidance for England and Wales only.