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Home Office circular 051 / 2003


  • Broad subject: Police Service
  • Issue date: Thu Oct 30 00:00:00 GMT 2003
  • From:
  • Linked circulars:
    No Linked Circulars

  • Sub category: Police recruitment
  • Implementation date: Mon Oct 27 00:00:00 GMT 2003
  • For more info contact:
    Isobel Rowlands
  • Addressed to:

Please note this circular is the same as 054/2003

Dear Chief Officer
This circular encloses amended guidance on eligibility criteria for the police service and updates HOC 48/2001.

  1. The stated policy and guidance at Annex A is the product of consultation with ACPO, forces, staff associations and others. It sets out the considerations which apply to applications for the police service in respect of:
    * Age
    * Previous applications
    ***** Financial checks
    * Criminal convictions
    * References
    * Security checks on applicants who have lived abroad
    * Tattoos
    * Swimming

  2. This circular does not cover eligibility in relation to nationality. HOC 6/2003 refers.

  3. The purpose of developing the policy and producing guidance is to achieve consistency in the way
    applications are processed. This should bring greater clarity to applicants and make the recruitment process fairer and more transparent. All aspects of the guidance should therefore be applied unexceptionally.

  4. The attached guidance should be adopted by all forces from the date of circulation.

  5. Information on eligibility criteria is also available on the police recruitment website,

Isobel rowlands



Applications should be accepted at the age of 18 for appointment at 18½. There is no upper age limit for applying to the police service.


  1. Candidates who have attained the age of 18 years may apply to become police officers and may take
    up appointment on reaching the age of 18½ years.

  2. There is no upper age limit for appointment but it should be borne in mind that the normal retirement age is 55 years and that new recruits are required to undertake a two year probationary period. Forces will want to ensure that they receive a reasonable return on their investment in training - three years (including the probationary period) may be considered to be reasonable. Forces will need to look carefully, therefore, at any applications received from those over the age of 52 years and refer such applications to the Head of Personnel.



Previous applicants can re-apply 6 months after receiving their rejection letter from a force.


  1. This guidance should not prohibit applications being put ‘on hold’ for candidates to retake the Job
    Related Fitness Test (JRFT). Such applications should be allowed to proceed once a candidate has passed the JRFT. Failure to pass the test within twelve months and after a maximum of three attempts will lead to rejection.

  2. Withdrawn applications may be resurrected if withdrawal was within the last six months. Otherwise, a
    fresh application on a new form should be submitted.



Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the Police Regulations 2003 states that a member of a police force shall not wilfully
refuse or neglect to discharge any lawful debt.

  1. All members of the Police Service are in a privileged position with regard to access to information
    and could be considered potentially vulnerable to corruption.

  2. Applicants to the Police Service should normally be free from undischarged debt or
    liability and able to manage existing loans. The emphasis should be on sensible management of debt.

  3. This policy should sit alongside National Security Vetting and force vetting policies and procedures.


  1. Applicants who have existing County Court Judgements outstanding against them should not be

  2. Applicants who have discharged County Court Judgements should be considered.

  3. Applicants who have been registered bankrupt and their bankruptcy debts have not been
    discharged should not be considered.

  4. Applicants who have been registered as bankrupt and their bankruptcy debts have been discharged
    should not be considered until three years after the discharge of the debt.

  5. For the purposes of police recruitment, former Directors of limited companies which have become insolvent who apply to the police force should be treated as if he/she were bankrupt even though the debts are in the name of the company.

  6. Where debts are declared, the financial vetting check should be made at the start of the recruitment
    process. Otherwise, it may be conducted post assessment and prior to appointment.


The policy is based on the following principles:

  • The public is entitled to expect that the police service recruits police officers and special constables with proven integrity.
  • Police officers and special constables are vulnerable to pressure from criminals and others to disclose information.
  • Convictions or cautions for recordable criminal offences must be revealed by police officers to the Crown Prosecution Service on every occasion that they submit a statement of evidence in a criminal case. In some instances the nature of the conviction will render an officer’s evidence of little value to the prosecution if, on disclosure to the defence, it is raised in cross-examination, (RvEdwards 1991). Such an occurrence could undermine the integrity of the evidence, the officer and the police force.
  • Police forces should not recruit people with cautions or convictions, which may call into question the integrity of the applicant or the service. Each case should be dealt with on its individual merits. This policy should sit alongside National Security Vetting and force vetting policies and procedures.


Recruitment process checks

  1. Before recruiting anyone to work in a police force, thorough checks must be undertaken to ascertain whether anything is known to the detriment of the applicant, his/her spouse or partner, or close relatives such as parents, in-laws, siblings or others residing with the applicant which could heighten vulnerability, bring discredit upon, or otherwise cause embarrassment to the police service. Checks on the PNC, Force Crime Information System, Local Intelligence and Special Branch Systems will be appropriate for the applicant and the applicant’s spouse or partner, close relatives such as parents, in-laws, siblings, or others residing with the applicant.

  2. It will be necessary on occasion (where an applicant resides outside the area of the force to which
    he/she is applying) for one force to ask another to conduct checks on the Force Crime Information System, Local Intelligence and Special Branch Systems on their behalf. Such checks should be conducted promptly to avoid delays in processing the application.

  3. Applicants must declare on the application form whether or not they have any convictions or cautions.

  4. Applicants should not be informed that they have been “successful pending the satisfactory completion of security checks”. They should be informed that any offer of employment is made on satisfactory completion of all medical, reference, and vetting procedures.

Criminal convictions

  1. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 provides that the Act shall not apply to the police service. Police forces are therefore entitled to ask prospective applicants to reveal spent convictions during the recruitment or vetting process. This does not apply to spent convictions of applicants’ families.

  2. The criminal convictions criteria defined by this policy must be used to assess each application on an
    individual basis. Eligibility will depend on the nature and circumstances of the offence. It is not possible to set out a full list of convictions that will preclude a person from becoming a police officer or member of the Special Constabulary. Each case will be considered on its own merits, and if the offence is deemed sufficiently serious a person will be rejected irrespective of age at time of offending. There may be circumstances where an individual does not fall within the criteria, but whose suspected involvement in crime, or criminal associations make an offer of employment inappropriate.

  3. Applicants must declare:

  • Convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings
  • Binding-over
  • Driving offences (including details of any relevant disqualification)
  • Fixed penalty notices
  • Any involvement with the military authorities on disciplinary matters (whether involving court martial or not)
  • Involvement in a criminal investigation (whether or not this has led to a prosecution) or been associated with
  1. **Applications should be rejected if an applicant of any age has **been convicted or cautioned for a serious arrestable offence such as:

§ Treason
§ Murder
§ Manslaughter
§ Rape
§ Kidnapping
§ Incest/intercourse with a girl under 13
§ Buggery with a person under 16 or a person who has not consented
§ Hostage taking, hi-jacking or torture
§ Involvement in espionage, terrorism, sabotage or any actions to overthrow/undermine parliamentary
democracy by political, industrial or violent means or association (past or present) with any organisation
advocating such activities
§ Death by reckless driving
§ Firearms offences
§ Racially motivated or homophobic offences

  1. Convictions which will lead to rejection unless there are exceptionally compelling circumstances, include:
    § Offences involving serious violence or injury including Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) and Actual Bodily
    Harm (ABH)*
    § Offences involving unsolicited violence towards others
    § Unlawful possession of weapons, firearms or going equipped to steal
    § Gross indecency
    § Acts of indecency
    § Abuse or neglect of children
    § Public Order offences - involvement in riot, violent disorder, affray, causing intentional harassment,
    alarm or distress
    § Interference with the Administration of Justice or the investigation of offences
    § Burglary
    § Offences which involve elements or acts of dishonesty, corruption, substantial financial gain or serious
    loss to anyone including theft, fraud and deception
    Drugs/driving offences
    § Serious involvement in drugs including possession of a class A drug (heroin, morphine) or more than one
    Class B drug (amphetamines) and/or supplying drugs of any kind
    § Reckless or Dangerous Driving within the last ten years
    § One offence of drink driving or drunk in charge or drugs driving within the preceding ten years
    § More than one offence of drink driving or drunk in charge or drugs driving
    § Other serious motoring offences such as convictions within the last five years of driving without
    insurance, failing to stop after an accident or driving whilst disqualified
    § More than three endorseable traffic convictions (including fixed penalties) within the last five years (for
    offences on different dates)
    § Two or more convictions for regulatory offences such as failure to renew vehicle excise licence within the
    last five years
    § Any offence committed as an adult or juvenile which resulted in a prison sentence (including custodial,
    suspended or deferred sentence and sentences served at a young offenders’ institution or community
    § Cautions (includes reprimands and final warnings) for recordable offences within the last five years
    § Juvenile convictions within the last five years for any recordable offence
    § Any recordable offence other than listed above within the last five years

Other Offences for consideration

  1. An applicant’s age at the time of an offence and the aggravating circumstances surrounding the offence will all have a bearing in the following cases:
    § Drunk and Disorderly - no more than one offence and only after 2 years have elapsed following a caution
    or 3 years have elapsed following a bindover/conviction.
    § Minor drugs offences or substance abuse - no more than one offence and only after 2 years have elapsed
    following a caution or 3 years from conviction
    § Common Assault - no more than one offence as a juvenile and only after 2 years have elapsed from end of
  • Forces should be aware that previously the infliction of a minor injury would lead to a charge of ABH. The charging criteria have changed, so that the same minor injury would now attract a charge of common assault, and would not necessarily lead to the rejection of the candidate. Convictions for ABH should be examined to see if they would now be classed as common assault. If so, they should be considered under the common assault criteria.

Undisclosed convictions

  1. Where it is suspected that an individual has failed to declare a conviction or caution, enquiries should be made to ascertain whether the conviction or caution is attributable to the individual. Such enquiries should include reference to the relevant court to ensure that the conviction has not been overturned on appeal. Where it is established that an individual has deliberately failed to disclose a conviction or caution his or her application should be rejected.

Outstanding charges and summonses

  1. Where an individual discloses an outstanding charge or summons the application should be put
    on hold until the outcome is known, at which point it will be considered in accordance with this policy.

HM Forces

  1. Serving members of the armed forces who are convicted of any criminal offence by a military tribunal will have any such offence recorded on the PNC. This will include any aspect of a conditional discharge.

Relatives and associates with criminal convictions or cautions

  1. Where relatives or the associates of an applicant are found to have unspent convictions or cautions for recordable offences, the following should be considered:
  • The likelihood that the applicant’s performance and discharge of duty will be adversely affected e.g. through adverse
    pressure or a conflict of interests;
  • The nature, number and seriousness of the offences or involvement in criminal activity and the time over which these
    took place;
  • Whether the circumstances are likely to bring discredit to or embarrass the police service or police force;
  1. A decision that an applicant is “unsuitable” on the basis of relatives’ convictions, intelligence material or his/her criminal associations is likely to be taken at Director of Personnel level.. The results of checks on relatives and associates should not be disclosed to an applicant.



References should preferably be from an applicant’s last 2 employers, including the current employer, or from school or university as appropriate. Enquiries to the current employer should not be taken up until the candidate is recommended for appointment or has given permission for them to be approached.

  1. The purpose of obtaining references is to verify statements made by candidates and to obtain an indication of whether there is any reason why an applicant should not be employed as a police officer. Essentially, employment references should confirm employment between the specified dates and in the position stated, ascertain whether a candidate attends work regularly, punctually, performs satisfactorily and is not subject to disciplinary problems.


  1. The Police Regulations 2003 require candidates to produce satisfactory references as to character and if a candidate has served in any police force, in the armed forces, in the civil service or as a seaman to produce satisfactory proof of his good conduct while so serving.

References: HM Forces

  1. Applications from service personnel can only be accepted if they have 12 months or less to serve before their discharge. Confirmation of their discharge date should be obtained. Note that the resettlement period for members of the services can be as much as 18 months.

  2. HM Forces assess conduct on a range of:
    § Exemplary
    § Very Good
    § Satisfactory (Army and Navy): Good (RAF)
    § Fair
    § Unsatisfactory

  3. Discharge certificates for service personnel will normally be satisfactory proof of good conduct. In particular, the highest assessments - “Exemplary” (Army and RAF) and “Very Good” (Navy) should be sufficient proof.

  4. However, there may be occasions when a force is not wholly satisfied by the assessment. Very careful consideration should be given, for instance, to any application where there is cause for concern or confusion about why the highest level of discharge assessment was not in fact given.

  5. In these cases the force will wish to make further enquiries to satisfy themselves of the candidate’s good conduct. Police forces can, for instance, with the agreement of the applicant, contact the appropriate service to obtain a print of an officer’s record.

  6. Forces should note that mental health or alcohol problems will not be reflected in an assessment unless they have had an adverse effect on the officer’s performance.

  7. Forces should also note that the assessment takes account of overall conduct and any offences committed and recorded. Convictions which are spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 are not taken into account and minor punishments, awards, dispensations which were incurred over five years before the assessment are disregarded.

References: other police forces

  1. References should always be taken from previous police service employment.

References: education

  1. The school or college should be contacted if the applicant has not worked before or if there is insufficient employment history, using Form B attached.

References: employment

  1. Employment references should always be taken up and should be obtained in a consistent and systematic way, using form A attached.

  2. Employment references must be from the period at least 10 years prior to application and should include the current or last employer.

  3. References should not normally be taken from current employers until an offer of appointment is being considered. References may be taken earlier with the applicant’s agreement. (See application form).

Gaps in dates of employment

  1. Gaps in employment should be dealt with as follows:

§ Any unexplained or unsatisfactory gaps (over six months) should be checked by telephone or letter (as appropriate) for a satisfactory explanation i.e. redundancy from last job, seeking other work, caring for elderly relative etc. If a satisfactory reason is given, the application form should be noted and the application may proceed.

§ If there are several unexplained gaps of whatever length, the applicant should be asked for an explanation and reasons recorded.

§ Queries about employment gaps or employment history should be satisfied prior to assessment.

Employment history

  1. There may be very good reasons for an applicant to have changed jobs frequently. He/she may, for instance, have tried out several careers/jobs after leaving school and before turning to policing. Applicants may therefore be asked to give an explanation where there appears to have been “career hopping”. Career hopping is not necessarily a barrier to selection. Each case should be considered on its merits.

Other references

  1. Although character references (other than from employment) should not be sought as a matter of course, voluntary work or other activities can sometimes give a good indication of whether an applicant is likely to have the qualities to become an effective police officer. In the absence of employers’ references, forces may, where appropriate, (and with the agreement of the applicant) seek references from individuals who would be in a position to provide information which would assist the assessment of an applicant’s suitability for appointment.



Forces need to carry out recruitment vetting procedures on all applicants to determine an applicant’s suitability to have access to sensitive and classified material and to ensure that counter terrorist checks are made. This guidance applies to all applicants (including UK nationals who have been living abroad) and should be read and sit alongside national security and force vetting policy and procedures and the recent Home Office Circular 6/2003 on nationality.


  1. Where a British national is normally resident in the UK but has spent some time abroad recently (for example, a year abroad post graduation), normal recruitment vetting procedures should apply supplemented if necessary by a reference from a responsible person e.g. a member of the university faculty or teaching staff.
    Recruitment vetting checks on EEA nationals who have not resided in the UK for the past 3 years will need to be made through the central policing of that country. Applicants will need to provide their own credit references.

  2. The normal recruitment vetting process should apply to Commonwealth and foreign applicants who are living in the UK free of restrictions. Where recent time has been spent abroad checks will need to be made through overseas police channels as part of the recruitment vetting process.

  3. Applicants who cannot be vetted cannot be appointed.



Candidates for the Police Service and serving officers should have a general appearance that is in keeping with the Code of Conduct for police officers. They must also demonstrate that they are sensitive to the impression they will make on those with whom they come into contact. Under the Code of Conduct police officers have a particular responsibility to act with fairness and impartiality in all their dealings with the public and with their colleagues and should treat members of the public and colleagues with courtesy and respect, avoiding abusive or deriding attitudes or behaviour. They must avoid favouritism of an individual or group, all forms of harassment, victimisation or unreasonable discrimination and overbearing conduct. It is necessary to ensure as far as possible therefore that a serving officer or candidate’s ability to act within the parameters of the Code cannot be called into question.


  1. Candidates with visible tattoos or facial piercing may be eligible for appointment. Each case
    must be considered on its merits. It will be for managers to consider whether the acquisition of a tattoo or facial piercing by a serving officer might constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct or constitute a risk to the health and safety of the officer.

  2. The nature, location, prominence and appearance of tattoos will need to be considered against
    the overall requirements set out above. For example, tattoos on the lower arm, hand and face are more prominent. The number and size of tattoos will also be factors to consider in terms of the impression they may give to members of the public or colleagues. Similarly, there will be a need to consider whether the prominence and location of facial piercing would undermine the dignity and authority of the office of constable and whether there may be implications for an officer’s safety.

  3. Tattoos and facial piercing become relevant if they could cause offence and/or invite
    provocation from members of the public or colleagues. The recruitment process should seek to establish, as far as possible, that candidates do not have or are liable to be perceived as having unacceptable attitudes towards women, minority groups or any other section of the community; or that they are aligned (or appear to be aligned) with a particular group which could give offence to members of the public or colleagues. A candidate with a tattoo that is considered to be rude, lewd, crude, racist, sexist, sectarian, homophobic, violent or intimidating should not be acceptable.

  4. It is possible that in some instances applicants will volunteer to have their tattoos removed.
    This is not an easy operation and usually involves a skin graft and/or laser treatment (i.e. burning off) of the tattoo. There is no guarantee that such treatment would be successful and there are known cases where patients have been left with permanent scarring. On no account must an applicant be told that an application will be considered favourably if tattoos are removed or toned down. Should an applicant insist on proceeding with treatment, he/she is to be informed by letter that the force regards the decision as entirely one for the candidate and that the police force cannot accept liability for any outcome. Additionally no guarantee could be given that a further application would ultimately be successful.



Applications should not be rejected because of an inability to swim.


  1. Following consultation with forces, the Advisory Group on National Recruitment Standards
    recommended that swimming should not be a requirement of the job. These skills should not form part of the selection criteria.

  2. Applications should not therefore be rejected because of an inability to swim.

  3. In making this recommendation the advisory group considered that swimming was not essential to carry out
    the duties of a police constable.


Published 30 October 2003