From today men with historic convictions for consensual gay sex can apply to have them wiped, as the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 comes into law.

The promise to disregard the convictions and wipe criminal records was announced by David Cameron on PinkNews.co.uk before the 2010 general election.

In 1994, the age of consent for gay men was reduced from 21 to 18, and in 2000, it was reduced further to 16, equalising with the age of consent for straight people.

However, the change in the law was not retrospective, so there are a considerable number of people who are required to disclose that they have a criminal record for a sexual offence, despite the action that they took part in being completely legal now.

Under the new Act men who were convicted of gross indecency or consensual gay sex that is no longer illegal can apply to have their convictions disregarded.

The Act also includes amendments which will enable gay and bisexual men maliciously convicted of “loitering with intent” under Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 to have those convictions removed from their criminal record too.

Until now, people wishing to work in roles that require background checks, including volunteering, have been discouraged for fear of having to disclose offences that were decriminalised in 1967.

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said: “From today thousands of men who’ve been burdened with homophobic convictions can clear their names, and Stonewall stands ready to help them. We never forget that the equality we enjoy today came too late for many.

“By correcting these historic injustices we can start to bring closure to a very sad period of this country’s history.”

An estimated 16,000 convictions could now be eligible for removal from police records.

Stonewall’s step-by-step guide to deleting historic convictions is available at www.stonewall.org.uk/oldconvictions