Significant hike in illegal working penalties from 13 February 2024
Sept 13, 2023
In the ever-evolving landscape of global mobility and UK immigration, businesses are bracing for a seismic shift. The UK’s tightening grip on illegal employment is poised to send shockwaves through corporate hiring strategies as hefty penalties for non-compliance loom on the horizon. Currently, the penalty for when 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 starting 13 February will be £45,000 and £60,000, respectively, a three-fold increase.
Concurrently, the “Code of Practice on Preventing Illegal Working: Right to Work Scheme for Employers” will also be implemented. This document details:
- Methods for employers to create a statutory excuse to avoid penalties for illegal working.
- A summary of the administration of the civil penalty system.
- Guidelines for determining liability and calculating penalty amounts for initial and subsequent violations of the right-to-work scheme.
This pivotal moment calls for senior decision-makers, HR, and Global Mobility Teams to navigate the complexities of lawful hiring with utmost diligence. In our in-depth analysis, we dissect the impending changes and offer actionable insights for businesses to fortify their practices against the rising tide of immigration enforcement. Stay ahead of the curve – your business can’t afford not to.
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. As the world grows more interconnected, global mobility has become a cornerstone of business growth. However, with the intricacies of UK immigration laws, employers must be vigilant to avoid the pitfalls of illegal employment.
Let’s unpack the consequences UK companies face when they inadvertently hire illegal workers and why compliance isn’t just mandatory—it’s imperative for your business’s integrity and continuity.
Understanding the Legal Framework
The UK government has clamped down on illegal working, imposing stern penalties on employers who fall foul of the law. If your company is found employing someone without proper authorization, you could be slapped with a civil penalty of up to £20,000 per illegal worker. This punishment should be considered alongside other implications for employing illegal workers. This includes;
Reputation at Stake
Imagine your company’s name emblazoned across headlines—not for innovative achievements, but for immigration infractions. The reputational damage can be long-lasting and far more costly than any fine. A tarnished reputation might mean the loss of client trust and potential business and could even impact your ability to attract global talent.
Business Continuity and Compliance Risks
The sudden loss of staff due to immigration violations can bring operations to a grinding halt. You’re not just losing workers; you’re potentially facing disruptions that could take your focus away from core business activities as you scramble to cover the gaps. And if you’re holding a Sponsor Licence, non-compliance can lead to audits, suspension, or even revocation of your licence, severely impacting your global workforce strategy.
Criminal Implications and Landlord Liability
In severe cases, employers may face criminal charges, with potential imprisonment of up to six months and fines. 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.
For those navigating the complexities of UK immigration, the message is clear: the cost of non-compliance can be substantial and multifaceted. From financial penalties to reputational damage, the risks underscore the need for rigorous checks and a thorough understanding of UK Immigration regulations.
For business decision-makers, ensuring compliance isn’t just a legal obligation; it’s a strategic imperative. Protect your business by staying informed, being proactive, and integrating comprehensive compliance checks into your global mobility programs. Your commitment to legal employment practices will safeguard your operations, reputation, and future growth in the competitive global marketplace.
What can employers do to prevent illegal working penalties in their businesses?
Are you inadvertently harbouring illegal workers within your UK business? 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.
It’s time to tighten the reins and ensure your workforce is legally compliant. Here are actions to help you steer clear of hefty penalties depending on an employee’s status and circumstances to work in the UK.
Navigating Right-to-Work Checks
A cornerstone of legal employment in the UK lies in meticulous right-to-work checks. 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.
From compliance reviews to bespoke training, we’ve got your back. Don’t let ignorance land you in hot water; contact us for an audit of your right-to-work protocols.
Establishing A Statutory Excuse
Employers are allowed to protect themselves against liability where illegal working is identified. This is called a Statutory Excuse.
Think of a Statutory Excuse as your safeguard against the storm of illegal working penalties.
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. Remember, this is not a “set and forget” strategy; it demands constant vigilance, especially with visa expirations.
Need a guiding light? Reach out for a detailed rundown on establishing your Statutory Excuse.
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 many reasonable attempts to comply. 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 on HR procedures and systems involved in completing right-to-work checks to ensure they stay current with 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. However, it comes with strings attached. 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.
Our Immigration Team is primed to assist you in navigating these complexities, ensuring your workforce is as globally mobile as it is legally secure. Let’s talk—before the Home Office does.
How Centuro Global 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. At Centuro Global, we understand the challenges senior decision-makers, HR, and Global Mobility Teams face when hiring and relocating a global workforce. Avoid the pitfalls of the civil penalty system and stay ahead of the ever-evolving immigration landscape with our expert team by your side.
Our industry-leading platform, Centuro Connect, offers seamless management of business visas and immigration processes, ensuring compliance and transparency at every step. Don’t let minor errors in UK immigration result in significant consequences. Trust Centuro Global to simplify your global mobility needs, from short-term travels to long-term work permits.