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Spent convictions rules for background checks in Australia

Should one mistake you made when you were young ruin your whole life? Should you carry the burden of a criminal record for decades, compromising any chance of getting a decent job and making a good life for yourself?

No, that would not be fair. According to Australian law, ex-offenders can see their old convictions ‘erased’ from their record after a certain period. This is known as the Spent Convictions Scheme. The scheme applies for all Australian states and territories, although local authorities might use different criteria, at least when it comes to the waiting period.

What does spent conviction mean?

The most important thing you need to know is that this scheme only applies to minor offences. Under Australian law, a minor offence is something for which the punishment is less than 30 months in jail. Criminal offences carrying longer prison sentences do not qualify.

According to the spent conviction laws in Australia, once the waiting period is over, a minor offence will no longer be disclosed when you undergo a background check in Australia, like for employment purposes.

It’ s not like the offence is actually erased from your record, but it won’t show up anymore on your criminal record and your prospective employer won’t ever know you were once in prison.

What is the waiting period?

The various Australian states have different rules on the waiting period. In some states, the waiting period starts from the moment you were convicted, while in others it only starts from the date you’ve served your time and are released from prison.

For adult offenders the waiting period is 10 years, during which you mustn’t commit any criminal offence. That’s the whole point of the spent conviction scheme, to offer ex-felons a chance to put their lives back on track and stay out of trouble.

The law is more lenient as far as juvenile offenders are concerned. For them, the waiting period is 5 years, or just 3 in New South Wales.

How do I know what my criminal record looks like?

Since the law applies differently across Australia, you’ll probably have to check the regulations in your state. Another way of finding out if your old conviction has become spent is to order a background check on yourself. All you have to do is look up online character check agencies like and apply for a police character check. It’s a simple procedure that only takes a few minutes to complete, and the result is sent conveniently straight to your email.

If you’re looking for a new job, it’s perfectly natural to be worried what your employer might discover on your record. Before you apply for a job, get a background check done so you’ll know if your record is finally clean. Also, when your employer asks you about a criminal background check,  you’ll be able to present it to them since it will still be fairly recent. You can always say you had a background check done while applying for another job. That’s a reasonable explanation.

There’s one important thing you need to know. Once your conviction becomes spent you’re under no obligation to disclose your past. If they ask you if you’ve been in jail, just say no. It’s not a lie, the law allows you to not talk about your previous conviction.