Of course, there is the National Minimum Wage to consider, as well as pensions, insurance, contracts, and (in some cases) even DBS certificates too. But the one thing you simply cannot forget in the hiring process is checking whether your potential new employee is actually allowed to work in the UK at all.

No matter who they are or what they’ll be doing, it’s your job as an employer to make sure that everyone who works for you is either a UK citizen or that they have the legal right to work here.

Why is this so important?

Employing illegal workers is one thing that certainly should not be taken lightly. In fact, even unknowingly hiring someone without the right to work in the UK could cost you as much as £20,000 in penalties.

If you were to do so deliberately, fines can reach unlimited amounts – with up to five years’ imprisonment added on for good measure.

This sentence will get this high if you are found guilty of employing someone who you knew or had ‘reasonable cause to believe’ did not have the legal right to work in the UK. ‘Reasonable cause’ could be as simple as an employee not producing Visa documentation when asked, leading you to believe:

  • They did not have leave (permission) to enter or remain in the UK
  • Their leave had expired
  • They were not allowed to do certain types of work
  • Their papers were incorrect or falsified

When checking your employees have the right to work in the UK, you need to also ensure that their documents are valid. If you employ someone who does not have the right to work and you did not do the correct checks before hiring them or did not do them properly, you will be charged.

Before this happens, you may get a ‘referral notice’ in the post letting you know your case is under investigation and that you could potentially face a fine of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker you employ.

You’ll then be sent a ‘civil penalty notice’ if you’re found guilty and be given just 28 days to respond.

Right to work checks

The good news is that all of this can be avoided, provided your run your Right to Work checks properly.

First, you’ll need to get hold of all of your employees’ identity documentation. These will need to be original forms, not copies. You’ll then have to check that the documents are valid in the presence of your employee.

This is your opportunity to look for any discrepancies that may suggest the documents have been altered. Even if you trust your employee entirely, with such high penalties at stake for mistakes, it is vital that you check this thoroughly with all employees.

Make sure you look at the names and birth dates across all documents to ensure they match.
After this, you should make your own copies of the documents to keep on file and make a record of the date on which you checked them. These should be re-checked regularly, particularly when visas and work permits are due to expire.

When you make your copies, this should be in a way that cannot be altered once done – such as a photocopy over a digital version. Remember you’ll need to hold onto the copies for at least two years after the employee has stopped working for you.

What if my employee can’t produce the documents?

In some cases, your employee may not be able to produce the documentation you need to see when you need to see it. So, you’ll have an important decision to make.

If you believe there is a legitimate reason that they cannot show you proof of their right to work, you may wish to contact the Home Office.

Sometimes, an outstanding appeal, application or review means your employee’s documents are inaccessible. However, the Home Office may be able to send you a ‘positive verification notice’ to confirm your employee has the right to work. Make sure you hold on to this document to protect you in the future. 

Talk to Sunny

The government try to make Right to Work checks as easy as possible for employers and they have a handy guide on the gov.uk website here. Sadly, that doesn’t mean checking right to work is as simple as it could be.

If you have any queries or concerns about your employees’ right to work, speak to an expert today. The penalties for even hiring an illegal worker by mistake are severe, so call your Sunny accountant today on 01623 559 362 or email us on [email protected] for professional tax advice and guidance.


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