UK Right to Work Checks

Ensure compliance with Home Office requirements and guard against illegal working, drawing upon our own expertise in UK right to work checks.

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Right To Work Check in the UK

If you are an employer in the UK, you are legally obliged to carry out checks on each and every one of your employees, in order to ensure they have the legal right to work in the UK.

The UK Government puts in place stringent rules designed to prevent migrants working illegally in the UK. If your organisation fails to comply with these requirements and you are found to be employing someone who does not have permission to work in the UK, you could be hit with fines of as much as £20,000 per illegal worker, as well as other punishment.

Our team at Cranbrook Legal can help ensure your company keeps on top of the UK’s frequently changing and extensive right to work legislation, so that you can be confident of always being in compliance.

What is a UK right to work check?

As the term implies, a ‘right to work’ check is a check that an employer undertakes, in order to verify that a particular individual is eligible to work in the UK and carry out the job that the employer intends to hire the individual to carry out.

As we will set out in further detail below, there isn’t just one form of right to work check in the UK. Such a check can be performed manually, for example, using the original documents, or the employer might use the Home Office’s own online checking service, or even the service of an Identity Service Provider (IDSP), to arrange a digital check.

Although there are various forms that a right to work check in the UK can take, it is crucial for your organisation to ensure such a check has been carried out in accordance with the Home Office’s requirements. This will protect your organisation from having punitive action taken against it by the department, in the event of it later being discovered that the given employee does not have the legal right to work in the UK.

Who is subject to a UK right to work check?

For any and every new employee that your organisation takes on, you will be required – in your capacity as an employer in the UK – to carry out prescribed right to work checks on the given individual, before they start working for you.

Your organisation is legally obliged to conduct basic checks on every UK-based employee, to verify that they have the permission necessary in order to work in the UK. All potential employees must be subject to these checks, regardless of their nationality.

What is the process for conducting a UK right to work check?

There are various potential ways to carry out a compliant right to work check in the UK. The options include:

  • An in-person manual check, using the original documents
  • A check via the online checking service provided by the Home Office
  • A check via an Identity Service Provider (IDSP) using Identity Document Validation Technology (IDVT)

So, let’s take a closer look at each of these methods. An in-person manual check, for instance, entails the employer asking the prospective employee to provide certain original documents from the UK Government’s List A or B of acceptable documents, as can be found on GOV.UK.

You might carry out a manual in-person document check for any employee whose immigration status is not able to be checked online with a share code, or in the case of any employee who has failed to provide you with a share code, and where a manual check is an available option.

At this point, you might be wondering what a “share code” is – so, let’s move onto the subject of checks via the Home Office’s online checking service.

The way such a check works is as follows: your prospective employee will need to visit the “Prove your right to work to an employer: get a share code” section of the GOV.UK website. Here, they will be able to obtain a share code, which is an alphanumerical code verifying that the given person has the right to work in the UK. The employer will then be able to use this share code to access and look at the given individual’s right to work record. This type of online check, using a share code, is an available option for most migrant workers.

As for the notion of using an Identity Service Provider (IDSP) for carrying out a right to work check in the UK using Identity Document Validation Technology (IDVT), this is a more recently introduced form of prescribed check. It is a possible option for employers wishing to complete the identity verification elements of right to work checks as far as British and Irish citizens are concerned. This type of check involves the employer instructing a certified IDSP to use the aforementioned technology to digitally verify the identity of the worker.

Finally, the Home Office also provides a facility known as the Employer Checking Service, which is not to be confused with the process of using a share code to check an applicant’s right to work online.

The Employer Checking Service allows employers to request that the Home Office checks an employee’s or potential employee’s immigration status, if they are unable to show their documents or online immigration status. This might be the case, for example, due to the employee having an outstanding appeal, review, or application with the Home Office, or because they arrived in the UK prior to 1989 and do not have documents proving their immigration status or right to work.

What happens if my company does not conduct a UK right to work check?

As an employer in the UK, your company is legally responsible for the prevention of illegal working. You will therefore need to carry out the relevant UK right to work checks on individuals that you wish to hire for your organisation, in order to be compliant with Home Office rules and ensure you are not penalised.

From a legal standpoint, carrying out the checks that the Home Office requires will give you a statutory excuse against liability for a civil penalty, in the event that you are found to have employed someone whose immigration status disqualifies them from doing the job they are doing for you.

Conducting the appropriate right to work check in the UK can therefore provide an important layer of legal protection for your organisation. It will mean that, even if the Home Office discovers you have hired someone who lacks the legal right to carry out the job they are doing for your organisation, you will not receive a civil penalty in relation to the illegal worker.

If, on the other hand, you have not carried out any such UK right to work checks – or you have not carried them out correctly – your organisation will not have the aforementioned protection, and could be at risk of severe consequences. These could include:

  • Your company being hit with a civil penalty in relation to illegal working, which could amount to as much as £20,000 per breach
  • Criminal prosecution
  • Enforced debt action
  • A county court judgement (CCJ)
  • Your organisation having its sponsor licence suspended or revoked
  • Your organisation finding it more difficult to obtain credit in the future
  • The disqualification of company directors
  • Your company being included on the Home Office’s list of civil penalty offenders
  • Serious harm to the reputation of your business, which in turn, could adversely impact on your organisation’s profits
  • The combined effects of the above could even, in a worse-case scenario, result in your business being forced to cease trading.

As you can see from the above, then, the simple failure to conduct a right to work check in the UK can have perilous effects on a company. It is therefore very much in your organisation’s interests to ensure it is not only undertaking these checks, but also doing so correctly.

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Is there a charge for conducting a UK right to work check?

It is free for an employer to carry out a right to work check in the UK; an exception to this would be if the given employer chooses to use the Identification Document Validation Technology (IDVT) process.

IDVT is a digital technology that allows employers to confirm the authenticity and validity of identity documents such as passports, driver’s licences, and ID cards. Since April 2022, legislation has been in place in the UK that enables accredited Identity Service Providers (“IDSPs”) to carry out the identity verification elements of right to work checks, in relation to British and Irish citizens.

So, as an employer, if you wished to take this route, it would entail paying a private-sector organisation that has been approved by the Home Office, to carry out such checks remotely.

Given that there is a cost incurred for each check, small and medium-sized employers are likely to wish to avoid conducting checks in this way. However, it could be a relevant option for your organisation if your staff work entirely remotely and it is difficult to carry out in-person checks.  

How can we help you conduct a UK right to work check?

It is crucial to ensure your company has comprehensive measures in place in relation to right to work checks and guarding against the risk of illegal working, so that you can be sure of never falling out of compliance with the Home Office’s requirements.

To this end, our experts in UK immigration law can provide wide-ranging right to work consultancy services, including:

  • Reviewing your organisation’s existing policy, processes, and systems for carrying out right to work checks and monitoring. There might be areas in which your organisation is non-compliant, or at risk of becoming non-compliant. If so, our professionals can proactively identify these areas for you, and recommend steps to take in order to avoid breaches, as well as to bolster efficiency and effectiveness
  • Carrying out an audit of your existing employees’ right to work status and personnel records
  • Training in relation to all types of UK right to work checks. There will be various people in your organisation who will likely be responsible for the onboarding of employees. Your HR staff, line managers, supervisors, and others within your organisation are likely to benefit from comprehensive training on the process of undertaking right to work checks. We can also provide documentation confirming that your staff have undergone such training
  • Helping to ensure your organisation avoids discrimination, at the same time as achieving and maintaining compliance with the rules designed to prevent illegal working in the UK
  • Providing guidance on recordkeeping
  • Advising on the status of individual employees of your company, as well as on complicated factors such as the hours students are permitted to work, and what you need to be aware of in the event of an employee of yours losing the right to work
  • Challenging civil penalties that may be handed down to your business, and responding to any allegations by the Home Office of your organisation having breached the rules.

As you can see from all the above, there will be a lot that your company needs to think carefully about, when it comes to carrying out UK right to work checks and maintaining compliance.

If you would like to learn more about any of our services, please feel free to arrange a free consultation with our UK immigration experts in central London. Alternatively, you are welcome to call us, on 0208 215 0053.

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