As we step into 2024, the United Kingdom’s right-to-work checks are undergoing a significant transformation. The Home Office has upped the ante for organisations, underscoring the importance of robust internal procedures to evade substantial fines and contribute to the fight against illegal migration, exploitation of vulnerable individuals, and modern slavery.
Penalties on the Rise
Commencing from the start of this year, civil penalties for right-to-work check violations are set to triple. The Home Secretary’s announcement highlighted the government’s commitment to deterring illegal practices. For a first offence, the penalty has risen from £15,000 to £45,000, with subsequent breaches carrying a maximum fine of £60,000. The actual penalty amount will be influenced by an employer’s compliance history and cooperation with Home Office investigations.
The Enforcement Landscape
Since 2018, the Home Office has issued around 5,000 civil penalties, amounting to a total value of £88.4 million. The increased identification efforts by the Home Office mean that instances of illegal working that may have gone unnoticed in the past are now coming to light.
Avoiding Fines: Understanding the Methods
Employers can avoid fines if illegal working is identified by establishing a statutory excuse through a manual right-to-work check, using identity document validation technology (where permitted), or completing a Home Office online right-to-work check. It is crucial for organisations to understand that these methods remain unchanged.
Responsibility and Risks
Typically, right-to-work checks are the responsibility of the recruitment department, often delegated to managers. However, this delegation increases the risk of fines as managers may lack familiarity with this area of regulation. Despite the Home Office presenting these checks as straightforward, the nuances involved can be easily overlooked.
Top Five Mistakes Employers Make
Failure to Update HR Processes:
- Employers often neglect to update HR processes according to the latest Home Office guidance. Appoint someone responsible for staying abreast of changes to ensure compliance.
Accepting Biometric Residence Permits as Valid Proof:
- Managers may instinctively accept physical visas, but biometric residence permits, biometric residence cards, and frontier worker permits cannot be used as proof. Utilise the Home Office online right-to-work checking service instead.
Not Recording Check Dates:
- Failing to record the date of the right-to-work check can lead to fines. It’s a simple step, but crucial for proving compliance.
Lack of Term Dates for Student and Tier 4 Visa Holders:
- Organisations must hold term dates for the entirety of a student’s course, ensuring compliance with working hour restrictions and preventing identity fraud.
Misunderstanding Post-Graduation Work Permissions:
- Student visa holders can work full-time post-graduation, but employers must verify completion. Some businesses fall afoul when students are resitting exams while working full time.
The Minister for Immigration, Robert Jenrick, emphasises that there is “no excuse for not conducting the appropriate checks.” To reduce the risk of legal consequences, organisations must prioritise updating processes, educating managers, and addressing common mistakes. Fines are just one aspect of the deterrents against employing illegal workers, with potential consequences including business closures, licensing implications, and criminal convictions. In this evolving landscape, organisations must stay vigilant to safeguard their reputation and legal standing.
If you have everything in order fantastic, if you haven’t we suggest opting for our HR Audit to avoid the risk of a £60k fine
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Thanks to Emma Bagshaw for inspiration in her original article