The penalties for employing illegal workers have tripled

It has long been established you need to check someone’s right to work before employing them.

This relates to confirming they are a UK or Irish citizen; or, if from further afield, have the necessary paperwork from the Home Office.

The penalties for non-compliance were already stiff, but on 13 February 2024 they tripled.

A first offence could cost you a £45,000 fine, with repeat offences hitting you for £60,000 apiece.

On top of these civil fines, you could also be criminally prosecuted and face business interruption as your workforce is dismantled.

Staying on the right side of the law

These harsh penalties are intended to prevent the UK labour market from being devalued by cheap overseas workers, as well as protect vulnerable overseas workers themselves. They also protect businesses which play by the rules from having to compete with less scrupulous employers who think they can gain competitive advantage with sharp practice.

The good news is it is simple to comply with the law, and as long as you follow Home Office guidance you will be exempt from the civil penalties (called a statutory excuse), even if it later transpires that someone did not have a right to work in the UK. You can:

Conduct a manual check – This involves requesting and reviewing an eligible document from a Home Office prescribed list (e.g. a passport); ensuring that it is genuine and gives them the right to perform the work for you. You should proactively challenge any discrepancies including, for instance, between a maiden and married name. Retain good quality copies of relevant documents.

Use a third-party Identity Service Provider (ISP) – These will carry out digital checks on your behalf. Using an ISP will provide you with a statutory excuse against penalty in the case of British and Irish citizens, but not anyone else.

Conduct a Home Office online right to work check – This is a process you follow yourself, using Home Office systems and a “share code” which your prospective employee provides to you to get the required Home Office confirmation.

Further tips for protecting your business

Most businesses will want to follow the law, but that it is easy to get caught out by such changes. Therefore, it is advises to:

Review your recruitment processes to ensure that you have a clear policy on how you will perform right to work checks when hiring.

Consider creating a right to work policy and using tracking software to stay on top of employees who have a time-limited right to work (as you will need to ensure their employment ends or re-do the checks).

Train employees who have hiring responsibility to understand their obligations. The government is clear that even if it is an individual’s mistake, you as employer bear responsibility for paying fines.

The Home Office also published an updated code of practice for preventing illegal working which would be sensible for you or relevant staff to familiarise yourself with. You can find it here.

Get help

The HR Dept. specialise in preventing people problems and this is a prime example. If you want help setting up the systems, policies and processes to ensure you do not fall foul of right to work checks, get in touch.

The penalties for employing illegal workers have tripled

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