Windrush rethink leads to fall in penalties for hiring illegal workers

28 Aug 2018 By Hayley Kirton

But experts caution right-to-work checks have not ‘fallen off the government’s radar’

Penalties for hiring staff with no right to work in the UK plummeted in the second quarter of the year, after the government paused sanctions to rethink its processes following the Windrush scandal. 

Home Office transparency data, released late last week, revealed fines totalling £1.9m were issued to employers in the second quarter of 2018, down 74 per cent compared with £7.3m in the same quarter of 2017.

The number of penalties issued has also fallen. The 2018 data revealed 119 penalties had been issued, down 73 per cent compared with 432 the year before.

The 2018 second quarter figures also represent a fall from quarter one. In the first quarter of the year, a total of 438 penalties worth £7.7m were issued.

The Home Office has been contacted for comment, however People Management understands the drastic fall was caused by a pause on penalties while the department rethought its processes after the Windrush scandal to make sure it was not punishing those with a legal right to work.

The Windrush generation travelled to the UK from the Caribbean as children on their parents’ passports between the 1940s and 1970s. Because they lacked the documentation most people immigrating to the country today would hold, it led to cases where people were wrongfully turned away from jobs or threatened with deportation

The scandal led to Amber Rudd’s resignation as home secretary, while her successor, Sajid Javid, has conceded something went “massively” wrong at the Home Office in its handling of the Windrush generation. The Guardian reported last month that the Home Office had stayed a variety of immigration enforcement activities while it dealt with the fallout, including halting data sharing with other organisations. 

However, Paul Holcroft, associate director at Croner, warned: “Employers should avoid assuming that illegal working enforcement has fallen off the government’s radar.” 

He continued: “The risks of employing an illegal worker are significant and employers should not suspend their internal right-to-work checking procedures, both pre-employment and follow-up checks, regardless of any short-term fall in penalties being issued.”

Under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, it is illegal to employ a person who has no right to work in the UK. Anybody found doing so can be fined up to £20,000 per person.

Employers that know they are employing somebody illegally, or have ‘reasonable cause to believe’ the person does not have the right to work in the UK, can also be jailed for up to five years and issued with an unlimited fine.

A Sterling Talent Solutions report, released in April, warned that businesses were failing to vet their international staff in the same way they would screen their UK hires, leaving them open to penalties if it transpired their workers did not hold the credentials they claimed. 

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, released last week, revealed EU net migration had fallen to its lowest level since 2012

Meanwhile, the CIPD and the Adecco Group warned earlier this month that the quantity and quality of job applicants had fallen over the last year, as EU citizens cooled on working in the UK ahead of Brexit.

However, conditions for hiring staff from outside the EEA eased in June, when the government announced it would be removing NHS doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 visa cap. Before this, the limit for restricted certificates of sponsorship for Tier 2 visas, which essentially must be obtained by UK employers hoping to hire non-EEA talent, had been breached for six consecutive months

Although July figures showed the restricted certificates of sponsorships limit was still being surpassed, the minimum salary required to obtain one had fallen significantly.

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