Significant hike in illegal working penalties from January 2024
Sept 13, 2023
The UK government has proposed changes that will lead to high expenses for employers seeking to recruit individuals from abroad, necessitating UK work visas. The announcements include plans for hikes in visa application fees and civil penalties for illegal working, which is expected to occur in 2024.
The current penalty where an employer is found to have employed a worker illegally is £15,000 per worker for the first offence and £20,000 per worker for further offences. The new penalties will be £45,000 and £60,000, respectively, a three-fold increase.
Employers are strongly advised to evaluate their hiring strategies and to implement measures to uphold the UK’s high compliance standards.
In this article, we will explore actions employers can consider undertaking to minimise the risks of being liable for civil penalties due to illegal working and ensure sponsor compliance.
Penalties for illegal working in the UK
Illegal working civil penalties cover the situation where an employer unknowingly employs a person who does not have the required permission to perform the job in question.
The punishment should be considered alongside other implications for employing illegal workers. This includes;
- reputational damage from the public record of the offence,
- harm to business continuity from the sudden loss of staff,
- the time and cost of dealing with an illegal working situation,
- and risk of Sponsor Licence compliance audit and/or suspension/revocation.
- In severe incidents of illegal working, criminal charges may also be brought.
- An individual who works illegally also commits a criminal offence, which is punishable by up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine.
This increase in penalties is not limited to just employers of illegal workers. Landlords will also face significantly tougher penalties if they permit illegal migrants to rent their properties. For landlords, the fines will increase from £80 per lodger and £1,000 per occupies for the first breach to up to £5,000 per lodger and £10,000 per occupier. Repeat breaches will be up to £10,000 per lodger and £20,000 per occupier.
What can employers do to prevent illegal working penalties in their businesses?
Many organisations have a genuine oversight on the employer’s part, combined with an often understandable lack of awareness of the relevant rules. Whilst ignorance is rightly not a valid defence to a civil penalty, the UK right-to-work system remains complex and constantly changing.
Here are actions to take depending on an employee’s status and circumstances to work in the UK.
Employers must take this opportunity to review their systems and procedures and ensure that the right-to-work checks they perform comply with the home office guidance.
This involves checking the prospective employees’ passports or visas in the original format or using the Home Office’s online checking service. An appropriate record of the check carried out must be kept, and close attention should be paid to ensuring the correct process is followed.
It is always best to seek specialist immigration and/or employment law advice to ensure the correct protocol is followed.
Our team regularly reviews compliance and provides detailed action plans and training to minimise exposure to penalties. Contact us with all your right-to-work queries.
Establishing a statutory excuse
Employers are allowed to protect themselves against liability where illegal working is identified. This is called a Statutory Excuse.
You can obtain a Statutory Excuse if you can prove that you complied with the document checking and storage requirements. In that case, you may be excused from liability from any penalty, even if it turns out that the employee is subject to immigration control and is working in the UK without the necessary permission.
Employers are also advised to conduct follow-up checks to maintain that Statutory Excuse where an individual’s visa expires during employment or residence.
Please get in touch with us for specific details of the documents you should check and store.
What constitutes a compliant check has changed significantly over the last few years. Many employers may not be current on the correct processes and acceptable documents, leaving them at risk. It is strongly recommended to review and update processes to ensure compliance.
We have covered some of these in the below articles:
We see a lot of reasonable attempts to be compliant. However, even a seemingly minor error can expose the employer to a civil penalty if an employee does not have valid permission to work.
We recommend that employers provide ongoing training to staff, HR procedures and systems involved in completing right-to-work checks to ensure they stay on top of the Home Office rules and guidance.
Our team is experienced in all aspects of the UK’s immigration legislation. If you require a compliance review of your current systems and processes or advice on a specific issue, we would be happy to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us or use the enquiry form here.
Sponsor Licence audit
As a result of skills shortages in the UK, many employers increasingly rely on their sponsor licences to recruit foreign talent. Therefore, carrying out broader periodic audits of sponsor licence compliance and having a training program for staff involved in sponsor licence administration is also recommended.
Compliance visits targeting workers without lawful immigration status are on the rise, so sponsor licence holders may notice increased compliance visits to ensure they comply with their sponsorship duties.
If you are found to be in breach of your sponsorship duties as a licensed employer, you may be subject to any of the following penalties:
- You may be given a written warning for employing an illegal worker, followed by close attention from our enforcement and compliance teams;
- Your rating on the register of sponsors may be downgraded.
- Your licence may be cancelled, and you may be removed from the register of sponsors, meaning your organisation will no longer be able to sponsor existing migrants or bring any migrant worker to the UK;
- you may be served with an on-the-spot fine (a civil penalty). If found to be employing an illegal migrant worker due to negligent recruitment practices, you could be served with a civil penalty for each illegal worker found.
- You may be prosecuted for having in your possession or under your control without reasonable excuse an identity document that is false improperly obtained, or belongs to someone else. For this offence, employers can be imprisoned for up to two years and/or receive an unlimited fine;
- You may be disbarred as a company director/officer due to prosecution.
If you require assistance with sponsor licence compliance for your business, we can help. Please contact a member of our Immigration Team for further information.
How Can We Help?
The civil penalty system exists to prevent illegal working, but certain aspects are overly complicated and seemingly minor errors can have significant consequences. Our Global Mobility team has vast experience in helping employers avoid pitfalls and find the right solution when things go wrong. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any Business immigration-related queries.