Right to work checks: What you need to know

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If your business is recruiting new staff, it’s down to you to ensure they have the right to work in the UK.

All organisations, no matter how small, have a legal duty to carry out this check before a new employee starts, or risk facing a civil penalty. Follow our handy guide to make sure you don’t get caught out.

Who needs a right to work check?

To put it simply – everyone. Beforea potential employee starts work, the organisation must make sure they are legally allowed to do so. 

The checks were implemented to make it more difficult for people to work illegally and to crack down on the mistreatment of illegal migrant workers and tax evasion.

Presuming a person has the right to work in the UK isn’t an excuse for not carrying out a check – all employees should be treated equally whatever their ethnicity or nationality. 

How do I carry out a check?

To carry out a right to work check, you must:

-Obtain the potential employee’s original documents

-Check the validity of the documents – the holder must be present at this point (this includes via a live video link)

-Make and keep a clear copy of the documents and record the date of the check

You also need to make sure that the documents are unchanged, genuine and belong to the holder; that photos are the same across all documents and look like the applicant; and that the date of birth is consistent.

Additionally, you should check that the dates for the holder’s right to work in the UK are still valid and that they have permission to do the type of work being offered, with no relevant restrictions.

If there are different names across any documents, the applicant should provide supporting information – such as a marriage certificate – as to why this is the case. 

Which documents can I ask for?

The Government sets out the documents you can accept in two separate lists. Those who have a permanent right to work in the UK should provide an item from List A. This includes, but is not limited to:

-A passport showing the holder is a British citizen or a citizen of the UK and Colonies with the right to live in the UK

-A passport or national identity card showing the holder is a national of a European Economic Area country or Switzerland 

-A full birth or adoption certificate issued in the UK which includes the name of at least one of the holder’s parents or adoptive parents, together with an official document giving the person’s permanent National Insurance number and their name issued by a Government agency or a previous employer.

An applicant with a temporary right to work in the UK is required to provide a document from list B, including a current passport endorsed to show that the holder is allowed to stay in the UK and is currently allowed to do the type of work in question. 

The full lists can be found in the government’s guide to acceptable right to work documents.

Next steps

Every document – including any necessary supporting documents as highlighted above – should be copied in a clear way and in a format that cannot be changed, such as a photocopy. They should be retained securely (either electronically or a paper copy) for the entire length of their employment and for two years afterwards, upon which they should be securely destroyed.

Make sure that:

-For passports, you copy any page with the expiry date and holder’s details (including any visas)

-For biometric residence permits and residence cards you copy both sides

-You record the date the check was made

What if I don’t comply?

If you hire someone who doesn’t work in the UK because you’ve failed to carry out a right to work check or didn’t do it properly, you may be liable for a civil penalty.

If this is the case, you could receive a fine of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker and your business’ details could be published by Immigration Enforcement as a warning to others. 

Additionally, if you are found to have employed someone who you knew or had reasonable cause to believe didn’t have the right to work in the UK, you could be sent to jail for five years and be required to pay an unlimited fine.

This includes having reason to believe that the applicant didn’t have permission to enter or remain in the UK, their leave had expired or they weren’t allowed to do certain types of work.

The most recent figures issued by the Government show that over £11 million in fines were issued to UK businesses between 1st October and 31st December 2017 for employing individuals without the right to work.

What else should I look out for?

Remember that if an employee’s right to work in the UK is time limited, you must carry out a follow-up check at the relevant time. 

It’s also worth noting that if an applicant is a Commonwealth citizen but unable to provide the necessary documents, they may still have the right to work in the UK. Check with the Home Office for more information.

If you are employing a student who has a limited right to work during term time, make sure you receive evidence of their academic term and vacation dates and retain these alongside their other documents.

If you’re still unsure about exactly what you need to do, why not use uCheck’s easy online systemto ensure you’ve got all the information required.

Author: George Griffiths Managing Director of uCheck, an online DBS checking service.