On 9 April 2014, the government announced tougher enforcement action to tackle illegal working in the UK. Employers now face more stringent measures and further compliance requirements from the government to stop the UK becoming an attractive place for illegal migrants.

It is important to realise that an employee can be an illegal worker through a number of ways and can often include students with an expired visa, students working more hours than they are permitted to or a person working on a visitor’s visa.

The government has implemented plans (which come into effect in May 2014) to double the civil penalty for employing illegal workers from £10,000 to £20,000. In addition to this, the government is increasing the maximum fine for employers paying below the minimum wage from £5000 - £20,000. Such steep increases in financial penalties show the government’s determination to curb an illegal working trend and alert employers to take this issue seriously.

However, not only can an employer face a financial penalty but their business’s details may also be published by Immigration Enforcement as a warning to other businesses not to employ illegal workers. Furthermore, if an employer knowingly employs an illegal worker they may face a jail sentence of up to 2 years in addition to an unlimited fine.

For many employers these are significant consequences that can have a detrimental effect not only financially but on the reputation of their business. Therefore it’s important to get it right.

How can I prevent illegal working in my business?

The golden rule when employing a selected candidate is to ensure that you do not discriminate against anyone because of their nationality and that you have an open and transparent recruitment policy that does not discriminate against individuals on racial grounds.

When a future employee provides the relevant documents to prove that they are authorised to work in the UK, it is essential to check that:

  • The documents provided by the employee have not expired (except UK passports, which can be expired);
  • Photos in the documents look like the employee;
  • The date of birth in the document seems consistent with the employee’s appearance;
  • The visa covers the type of work they’ll be doing (including any limit on the number of hours they can work);
  • If two documents give different names, the employee can give a good reason for this e.g. marriage or divorce.

Practical tips:

  • Make a copy that can’t be changed e.g. a photocopy, a scan or a recordable CD that can’t be overwritten;
  • For passports, copy the front page and any page with the employee’s details on, including endorsements, e.g. a work visa or certificate of entitlement to right of abode in the UK.
  • For biometric residence permits, copy both sides;
  • Keep copies for 2 years after the person stops working for you.

 If an employer has any suspicions about an employee’s right to work in the UK or to carry out a certain type of work they can report this by phoning the Home Office’s Sponsorship and Employer’s Helpline on 0300 123 4699. If they report a suspicion before an illegal working immigration visit is made by the Home Office’s enforcement teams any civil penalty they may be liable for could be reduced.