Failure to comply with immigration checks costs UK businesses £50m a year

Employers are failing to make sure they have the relevant right to work documents, says employment law expert

Failing to abide by right to work rules, which determine an individual’s eligibility to work in the UK, costs organisations £50m in fines every year. 

Through a freedom of information request, background and identity verification firm Onfido discovered that 2,943 initial civil penalties totalling £49,472,500 were dished out between July 2015 and July 2016. Although these figures do not include secondary or subsequent penalties, Onfido said the alarming numbers suggest that businesses are struggling to remain compliant with often complex and time-consuming pre-employment screening processes.

“Many clients go wrong by failing to obtain the relevant information before employment commences,” Chris Brazier, business immigration lawyer at BP Collins, told People Management. “If employers fail to take this step, they cannot secure a ‘statutory excuse’ so, if that person turns out to be an illegal worker, the employer will have no defence.

“As such, all employers should ensure they have systems in place that will not allow an employee to start work unless and until they have obtained valid and dated evidence of an individual’s right to work.”

Right to work checks are mandatory pre-employment check for all UK workers. They require employers to obtain, thoroughly check and record every candidate’s identity documents before offering them employment.

The right to work rules were updated in May 2014. A key change was increasing the maximum civil penalty organisations can receive for employing someone without the right to work from £10,000 to £20,000 per illegal worker. 

Employers are also required to diarise expiry dates on documents for all new recruits and their current migrant employees. To avoid any last-minute hurdles, businesses are required to send all relevant employees requests for their new documentation in ‘good time’ before their current documents expire, although precisely what ‘good time’ means is open to each employer’s discretion.

Reuben Sagar, head of employee and contractor verification at Onfido, said rapid and frequent changes to the right to work rules mean it is becoming arduous for employers to “keep up” with their obligations. “Without expert support, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for employers to manage their checks accurately and consistently, and this is coming at a huge cost to business, as these figures show,” Sagar warned. “Employers need to take action now to ensure they’re not at risk.”