Police cautions and warnings

Three young people stand chatting to each other about how police cautions work.

The Mix explains what a caution is and how police cautions and warnings work in the UK.

Got a police caution or warning? Not sure what it means? We’re here to explain and answer your most asked questions, like how long cautions last.

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

What is a caution or warning?

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 it’s 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 an 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?

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

How long does a police caution last?

A caution lasts for six years if you’re an adult, or two years if it’s a ‘youth caution’ (which you can get between 10 and 17 years of age). From November 2020, cautions, reprimands and warnings received when an individual was under eighteen no longer appear on a Standard or Enhanced DBS certificate automatically.

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. It 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 DBS checks or DBS certificates in the future, unlike if you’ve been cautioned or convicted.

Want to learn more about crime and safety in the UK? Head here.

For further advice and support, Nacro assists people if they have a criminal record, and they can help you when it comes to telling employers. Ring their helpline on 0300 123 1999.

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By The Mix Staff

Updated on 31-Mar-2023