Business immigration issues have not been far from the headlines since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 and, at the weekend, Theresa May announced that Britain will decide for itself how it will control immigration and that it “will be free to pass [its] own laws”. One of the key areas of focus in recent months has been on illegal working, where there have been significant developments. July 2016 saw the introduction of new measures creating a wider criminal offence with increased criminal sanctions, and the implementation of new enforcement powers for the Home Office – see our Be Aware alert of 11 July 2016 for full details. Further reforms are also expected in coming months including a power to temporarily close businesses that continue to employ illegal workers.

Alongside the new legal regime, the Home Office has been continuing to investigate employers of all sizes to identify whether any workers are being employed illegally. In the period January to March 2016 alone, the Home Office identified over 1,100 illegal workers employed in the UK and issued over 800 penalties, amounting to a gross figure of over £14 million. It also published the names of those employers on whom a penalty has been imposed, and who have not made payment, or have been served with further penalties.

This potential liability for criminal and civil sanctions, and significant damage to reputation, means that illegal working is an issue that employers cannot afford to ignore and must tackle head-on. Auditing current workforces and existing procedures for carrying out “right to work” checks is a critical part of this process.