Third of UK employers do not check for illegal workers

38% of UK employers don’t check if their employees have the right to work in the country, despite being legally obliged to do so.

That is according to new research by SterlingBackcheck. The background screening process provider polled 175 organisations for the survey, which will be published tomorrow.However, a preview of the study shown to Executive Grapevine reveals that only 58% of organisations conduct any type of background checks. Clare Hart is CEO at SterlingBackcheck. She says: “Employers have a duty to prevent illegal working, so it’s their responsibility to conduct document checks and ensure that they only recruit people who have permission to work in the UK.

“The tight labour market makes it tempting for employers to look the other way, but any business that fails to carry out these checks correctly risks a £20,000 civil penalty for each illegal worker, as well as damage to their brand and reputation. That’s a high price to pay.”

The companies least likely to screen candidates are SMEs with less than 100 employees. 67% of respondents said they conduct pre-hire screening checks to meet regulatory compliance. 59% stated that they did background checks to improve the quality of hires and 53% said they screened candidates to maintain their corporate reputation. 66% of employers conduct background screenings to check for CV fraud.

“Usually this is to guard against job applicants who have embellished their experience to make themselves appear more employable,” Hart says. “However, recruiters should also conduct these checks to protect themselves against candidates who have forged their identity or immigration status.”

Employers are reminded that they have to check the job applicant’s “right to work” documents. You must check that a job applicant is allowed to work for you in the UK before you employ them.

You can do that by seeing the applicant’s original documents, which you much check if they are valid with the applicant present. You must keep copies of the documents and record the date you made the check.

You could face a civil penalty if you employ an illegal worker and haven’t carried out a correct right to work check.You must not discriminate against anyone because of their race.

Checking the documents

You need to check that:

  • the documents are genuine, original and unchanged and belong to the person who has given them to you
  • the dates for the applicant’s right to work in the UK haven’t expired
  • photos are the same across all documents and look like the applicant
  • dates of birth are the same across all documents
  • the applicant has permission to do the type of work you’re offering (including any limit on the number of hours they can work)
  • for students you see evidence of their study and vacation times
  • if 2 documents give different names, the applicant has supporting documents showing why they’re different, eg a marriage certificate or divorce decree

Read the guidance on how to carry out right to work checks and what documents you can accept. You’ll have to make further checks on your worker if they have a limited right to work in the UK.

You may need to ask the Home Office to check an employee’s or potential employee’s immigration status if:

  • they can’t show you their documents, example if they have an outstanding appeal or application with the Home Office
  • they have an Application Registration Card
  • they have a Certificate of Application
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