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Experts express concern as government announces reintroduction of in-person right to work checks

23 Apr 2021 By Lauren Brown

‘Unworkable’ changes mean employers must see candidates’ physical documents as temporary virtual checks brought in because of Covid come to an end 

Employers will have to return to conducting in-person right to work checks in May, the government has announced, as allowances made at the start of the coronavirus pandemic come to an end.

Updated official guidance from the Home Office this week has said that from 17 May, employers will once again be required to either check the applicant’s original documents, or check the applicant’s right to work online if they have provided a special code.

The government also warned some individuals may still struggle to show evidence of their right to work in the UK because of the impact of the pandemic and has urged employers to “take extra care to ensure no-one is discriminated against as a job applicant or employee because they are unable to show you their documents”.



Organisations that carried out the Covid-19 adjusted checks – which allowed employers to use video calls and to accept scans or photographs of documents – between 30 March 2020 and the reintroduction of the normal rules next month will not be required to carry out retrospective checks.

Proponents of the adjusted system have reacted with disappointment to the announcement and the potential ramifications it poses to firms.

May Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), said returning to physical checks threatened to undo the “huge amount of time and effort that has gone into adapting the right to work verification processes in a remote environment”.


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Bowers added the short notice of the change was a concern as many businesses were expecting advice to work from home where possible to remain in place into June, and that a return to pre-pandemic systems that do not retain the flexibility needed in a hybrid working environment would harm organisations during this recovery period.

“To introduce these face-to-face, original document verification checks when people are still working remotely and offices are not open is simply unworkable and will only add further unnecessary burdens on already struggling businesses,” she said.

Bowers added APSCo would be addressing its concerns to the Home Office directly.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has also called on the Home Office to reconsider the change. Kate Shoesmith, the organisation’s deputy CEO, called for it to be delayed until 21 June at the earliest, warning that asking employers to do checks in person could undermine the UK’s approach to combating the virus.

“The digital checks have hugely benefited us all – ensuring UK business and our workforces can operate as effectively as possible and respond to spikes in demand during the pandemic,” Shoesmith said in a letter to Priti Patel, the home secretary.

“Removing the ability to perform these checks digitally, whilst the nation remains under some level of lockdown does not make sense and is an avoidable barrier which could stop some of the services we all rely on – in health, care, retail, food and logistics for instance – from being provided.

“The last few months have allowed us to pilot digital right to work checks – and the system works,” Shoesmith added, calling for a broader review into ensuring right to work checks are “fair and robust”.

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