Employers welcome delay to in-person right to work checks

But experts urge businesses to continue preparing for a return to face-to-face inspections next month or risk discrimination claims

Businesses have welcomed the decision to delay the reintroduction of in-person right to work checks, which the government has now pushed back to 21 June following complaints from employee groups.

The Home Office had announced last month it was bringing to an end coronavirus allowances that meant employers could use video calls and accept scans or photographs of documents when checking whether individuals are legally allowed to work in the UK.

Employers were initially told they would be expected to start conducting in-person checks again on Monday (17 May), despite the current guidance on working remotely still being in force.

However, in an update to the guidance, the Home Office said yesterday (12 May) that the new date for reintroducing in-person checks was “aligned with the easing of lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed yesterday that he planned to drop the work from home advice on 21 June so long as the current easing of coronavirus restrictions continued to go to plan.

Shazia Ejaz, campaigns director at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), which lobbied the Home Office to delay the return of in-person checks, described yesterday's announcement as a “big win” for businesses.

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“It allows them to continue with digital checks while social distancing is still in place,” Ejaz said, adding that the REC would continue to lobby for digital checks to remain in place for longer. "[Recruiters] have proven that these checks work and increase efficiency for all concerned."

This was echoed by Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies, which also wrote to the home secretary to protest the early return to in-person checks.

“We had hoped that the Home Office would prioritise the expansion of digital checks – a process much more suitable for the modern world of flexible work,” said Bowers, adding that returning to physical checks “flew in the face of the Home Office’s ‘digital by design’ concept”.

“Physical checking does not mean safer. People are not as good as technology is at spotting fraudulent documents,” said Bowers.

Gillian McKearney, head of UK immigration at Fieldfisher, said that while many employers will have welcomed the delay to the reintroduction of in-person right to work checks, many would have liked to see a permanent change given how the labour market has changed over the last year.

“Lack of signs over a permanent change is a great concern to many businesses that are finding that offering fully remote contracts is helping them to secure better talent,” she said.

McKearney urged employers to continue with their preparations for resuming in-person checks, warning that this extension was only delaying the issue of potential discrimination against prospective candidates who are unable to show their official documents in person.

“From 21 June onwards employers will need to check an applicant's original documents in person or check this information online where available,” said McKearney. “If an employer is unable to do this and therefore doesn't go ahead with the employment offer, employers could find themselves with a discrimination claim against them, which could go to the employment tribunal.”