The United Kingdom is part of the Visa Waiver Programme (VMP). There are 38 countries in total that participate in the Visa Waiver programme.
The Visa Waiver Programme permits citizens of these 38 countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. In return, the 38 countries must permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes.
There are exceptions to these rules that are currently in force, and which are published on the US Department of Homeland Securities website.
An ESTA is an automated system that verifies a person’s eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).
In order to be eligible to apply under the Visa Waiver Programme, you must possess a passport with specified security features, it must have a digital photograph of yourself printed on the data page, and your passport must also have a machine-readable zone.
If you have a criminal record, then you will need to disclose this on your ESTA application, and which will most likely result in the refusal of your visa waiver, and necessitate a full visa application.
The US authorities currently not only require court convictions to be disclosed on the ESTA, but also cautions and arrest records. For further details about this, and what your options are, please visit our page here: Can United States of America Immigration Officials see my Criminal Record?