One week until in-person right to work checks return: what should HR be doing?

Seven days before employers are due to start conducting document checks face to face again, People Management asked the experts how people professionals should be preparing

Although the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has today (25 August) written to the Home Office to urgently request a delay, as things currently stand, in-person right to work checks are due to be reintroduced in a week’s time on 1 September. 

In the letter, the REC calls in-person checks “an unnecessary step backwards” and “counterproductive, particularly in the face of the unprecedented worker shortages in many sectors”.

It also requests the Home Office keep temporary digital checks until a permanent digital solution has been developed because, once in-person checks return, there will only be limited circumstances in which firms can conduct digital checks by using the Home Office’s online right to work check tool.

But unless there is a last-minute reprieve, with just seven days until these measures end, businesses will still need to be prepared for the return of ‘normal’ in-person right to work checks. People Management spoke to HR professionals and employment lawyers to find out what businesses can do to prepare during this final week.

What are the challenges of returning to face-to-face right to work checks?

“Digital right to work checks have saved employers time and money and helped people get back into work quickly,” said Kate Shoesmith, deputy CEO of the REC. “It makes no sense for the government to shoot themselves in the foot and return to mandating in-person checks when the use of digital checks has been a success story.” 

She added that another risk to consider was the significant labour shortages across the UK and delays to hiring could have serious consequences for companies and their recovery. 

Paul Holcroft, managing director at Croner, warned that, after the last 18 months, a return to normal presented challenges such as physical proximity to documents. “Businesses that are geographically spread out could ask their prospective employee to attend one of their sites or, alternatively, the most practical way of doing right to work checks will often be to ask the individual to obtain a share code,” he said.

However, employers needed to be wary about requiring checks to be done electronically, he added, saying it could “impact unfairly” on those unable to access services, for example, if they had a disability or where their age made this more difficult.

Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), said another risk with in-person checks was human error, because those intending to commit fraud use sophisticated methods to alter documents which means the risks of fraudulent documents being approved increases. 

“The ID digital verification tools that have already been successfully introduced over the course of the pandemic by many businesses have made it easier to spot illegitimate documents,” she said. “It is disappointing that these developments may disappear from 1 September as they do not fulfil the requirements of face to face checks.”

On this, Matthew James, associate at Bates Wells, told People Management: “This practice is unlikely to be widespread, but it is clearly a concern of the Home Office.” 

Failure to conduct correct right to work checks goes against those responsibilities and so will impact an employer’s ability to obtain a sponsor licence in the future or see licences revoked, which could have an impact on the employer’s ability to fill their staffing needs, he explained.

What should businesses do in the next week?

"Employers should review their procedures for carrying out these checks,” said Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD.

She advised the simplest solution was for businesses to return to manually checking applicants’ original right to work documents in person where possible, and suggested employers should give a worker “every reasonable opportunity to prove their right to work to avoid acting in a discriminatory way".

Bowers said: “It is important for employers to look at those roles they are currently recruiting for and new hires that are going through the verification process now and identify any that may be at risk should in-person verification be required in the next week.” 

Some practical tips were also offered by Chetal Patel, partner at Bates Wells, who warned there was “no ‘one size fits all’ approach”. Over the next week, Patel suggested that businesses ask themselves whether they have enough staff in place to conduct in-person checks if required, and whether they were able to allocate one core day each week to conduct the checks.

“Do you need to update any written guidance documents on how to conduct the checks?” she added.

How will a move to hybrid working impact the process?

“Not everyone will be comfortable coming into the office to provide their original documents and there remains a degree of anxiety, so adjustments may need to be made,” Patel said. 

She added that some organisations have made the decision to continue with adjusted right to work checks beyond September, even though it is against Home Office policy, because they feel the risk is low with them employing someone who doesn’t have the appropriate right to work, however she did add that this approach may not be for everyone.

Suff said while manual checking is returning, a digital right to work checking service would still operate if an employee has been provided with a share code by the Home Office, which enables them to prove their immigration status.

She suggested this could be “very helpful for employers operating a hybrid or remote working model”.

However, Bowers highlighted that for employers moving to hybrid or fully remote working, the return to in-person verifications will limit talent pools on an already skills-short market. 

“While APSCo will continue to lobby for more permanent digital changes, employers will need to take a case-by-case approach as to how they support new hires in the employment verification process,” she said.