All UK employers are required to check the right to work of their employees and take steps to prevent illegal working.

Civil penalties for illegal working cover the situation where a UK employer unknowingly employs an individual who does not have the required permission to perform the job they are doing.

The Home Office has announced that from 13 February 2024, the overall maximum civil penalty for employing an illegal worker will increase from:

  • £15,000 to £45,000 per worker for a first offence
  • £20,000 to £60,000 per worker for repeat violations.

In addition to hefty fines, further risks can also arise with illegal working, including but not limited to, criminal liability, business interruption, and potential impact on an employer's sponsor licence, including revocation. The Home Office also publishes a list of all UK businesses that have been issued with civil penalties. This can of course attract negative press attention, and have an impact on credibility and reputation.

A civil penalty can be avoided if an employer establishes a statutory excuse by carrying out a right to work check in line with the Home Office’s right to work guidance for employers (link here). Employers should also familiarise themselves with the updated code of practice on preventing illegal working (link here), which comes into force on 13 February 2024.

Please note that we are seeing an increase in compliance visits from the Home Office and with Immigration Enforcement activity in general, which has been reported as up 50% on last year and now at its highest level. This again highlights the importance of ensuring that right to work checks are carried out correctly.

Practical tips for employers

Review process and procedures

  • The right to work requirements have changed a lot over the years and understandably, employers may not have kept track with all of the developments. However, it is now more important than ever for employers to make sure that they have rigorous processes in place.
  • Employers should consider issuing a clear right to work policy and utilising tracking systems, in order to monitor those workers with time-limited permission to be in the UK and to keep abreast of repeat checks which are required.

Training for staff

  • Employers should ensure that anyone with responsibility for carrying out right to work checks has regular in-depth right to work training, so they know how to carry out compliant checks in each case.

Respond to Home Office correspondence

  • In the event of suspected illegal working, the Home Office will typically write to the organisation issuing an initial Information Request, with a timescale for a response.
  • It is vital to respond by the deadline and to co-operate with any subsequent investigation. This can have an impact on whether a civil penalty will be imposed and if so, at what level.

Seek legal support when required

  • The UK's right to work regime is not straightforward and there are significant consequences for getting it wrong, so legal support is a worthwhile investment.

Our Business Immigration team has experience in helping employers to carry out compliant right to work checks. Please do get in touch with our immigration specialists if you need support.

This article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice.