I CAN’T imagine how hard it must be for people who have a criminal record to be assimilated back into society.

This difficulty will be magnified when they try to find work.

There is a charity, which is playing its part in combating this stigma and helping businesses identify possible employees from people with this background, rather than automatically vetoing them.

The charity, Unlock, has just launched a new website (recruit.unlock.org.uk) dedicated to helping employers find their way through the right processes to ensure they have the appropriate policies in place for ex-offenders.

More than 10.5 million people in the UK have a criminal record and statistics show nine out of 10 employers are open to the idea of recruiting people with convictions but less than 20 per cent have done so.

We are helping to promote Unlock and improve understanding of the sometimes-complex criminal record disclosure legislation.

Often people don’t know what they can and can’t do in terms of application processes and interview questions.

Lack of knowledge about these issues could prevent them actually identifying the best person for a post.

Most businesses may also not be aware of rehabilitation legislation such as the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which is the law that determines when criminal records become ‘spent’.

It is illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of a spent conviction and there will be companies who will unwittingly do just this.

There are great successes, however, from companies including our members Greggs and Virgin Trains, who go the extra mile to ensure their recruitment policies are fair and inclusive.

A campaign is also underway by Unlock to Ban the Box, which calls on employers to ban the tick box question about whether someone has criminal convictions.

Unlock have a number of examples of businesses who have taken the box for this fact off application forms and given a former offender a chance to re-build their life through working.

A benefit for the company, individual and society as a whole.

As a Chamber, we constantly encourage equality and believe employers should always appoint the best person for the job regardless of background.

It is aptitude, attitude and the right skills which are the most important.

I urge all North-East businesses to look at their processes and if nothing else, Ban the Box, and don’t stereotype potential employees with a spent criminal record.

There are myths surrounding this issue and they need to be destroyed.

James Ramsbotham is chief executive at the North East England Chamber of Commerce