Cautions and warnings

Got a police caution or warnings? Not sure what it means? We're here to explain.

caution tape

What does a caution even mean?

If the crime you’ve committed isn’t that serious, the police may give you a caution or warning (which are basically the same thing). Unfortunately, the consequences of this can last much longer than you might think.

What is a caution or warnings?

A caution is basically the police’s way of telling you off if you are 10 years old or older and have committed a minor offence.

You can be cautioned if police have evidence you’ve broken the law, but don’t think its bad enough to put you through the courts. This is classed as an official warning but you aren’t being arrested and you won’t go to court.

When would police caution you?

The police officer must have evidence that you committed a crime, and they must think this evidence could lead to a conviction if it went to court.

You must admit to the crime and you must not have been convicted in the past of any other crime. You can be arrested and charged if you don’t admit to the offence.

If you are cautioned by the police it is normally because it’s the first time you’ve been in trouble and you have admitted to the offence.

Are there other types of cautions?

  • Conditional caution: A caution given where you have to stick to a particular rule e.g. get treatment for a addiction problem
  • Penalty notice for disorder: Given only if you’re over 18 for offences like shoplifting or possessing cannabis. You’ll be asked to sign a penalty notice ticket and won’t get a criminal conviction if you pay the penalty. You can ask for a trial if you disagree with the penalty.



Does a caution give me a criminal record? Do I have to tell employers about it?

A caution isn’t a criminal conviction and therefore it is considered to be ‘spent’ immediately under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

What this means is that if there is a section on an application form where it asks about unspent convictions under the Act, if you’ve received a caution, you don’t have to say anything.

It can be used as a sign of ‘bad character’ if you go to court for another crime.

Will a caution show up on a DBS check?

Although cautions are not classified as a criminal conviction, they will show up on Disclosure and Barring Service checks (DBS), previously known as CRB checks. Normally employers will take into account the type of offence and how long ago it happened.

If you want more information and advice about your criminal record, contact ACRO Criminal Records Office.

Can I appeal a caution if I don’t think it’s fair?

You can only be given a caution if you admit to the offence – therefore you cannot appeal the decision.

However, if you don’t accept responsibility for the offence, you won’t be given one. This could lead to the police arresting you and taking you to the police station. And you may end up going to court.

The police mentioned restorative justice, what’s that?

Restorative justice means having the opportunity to make amends for your crime. It often involves meeting the victim to apologise and explain your actions.

Like a caution, restorative justice can only be given to you if you haven’t had any form of warning before.

For example – if you broke someone’s window, the police would give you the chance to apologise to the victim and offer to pay for the repair.

Will restorative justice show up on my record?

Restorative justice is preferred by the police as it shows you the impact of your actions; gets you to take responsibility for the crime; and allows victims to ask you questions.

Restorative justice doesn’t go on your record. It is only recorded on a crime report and therefore will not show up on any CRB checks or DBS checks in the future.

Next Steps

  • Nacro offers advice and support if you have a criminal record, and can they can help you when it comes to telling employers. Ring their helpline on 0300 123 1999
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


legal| police

By Victoria Civil

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo of caution tape by Shutterstock