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Crackdown on illegal workers

The government is cracking down on organisations that employ illegal workers. Don’t add your retail business to the list – make sure Right to Work checks are carried out and in the correct way. 

Since July 2016, an employer who knowingly hires or has reasonable cause to believe an employee is working illegally is committing an offence. This amendment extends the offence to cover not only employers who know that the worker does not have permission to work in the UK, but also where there are certain circumstances that lead the employer to have reasonable cause to believe this. It carries a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

If you do not conduct ‘Right to Work checks’ or don’t do them correctly, and it is found you employ illegal workers, you may face having to pay up to £20,000 for each illegal worker.

How do I do a Right to Work check?

Before you hire a worker, you must be sure that they are legally allowed to work in the UK. You must carry out a check of the person’s documents. This involves the following:

  • Obtain the person’s original documents – the documents presented must be listed on the official list of accepted documents. Examples include a current passport or a birth certificate.
  • Check if the documents are genuine – you should check the expiry dates; that the picture and date of birth match the person; that the document has not been tampered with, etc. You must always conduct these checks with the document holder in front of you.
  • Keep a copy of all the documents for your records – make sure that they are safely stored and that your records clearly show when you carried out the check.

How can I tell if a document is genuine?

You do not need to be an expert in the identification of false documents. You will only face a fine if it is reasonably obvious that it has been falsified.

How long do I need to keep copies of the documents for?

You must keep the copies for the entire duration of the worker’s employment and for two more years after the termination of the employment relationship.

Is it my responsibility to check the documents?

Yes. It is an employer’s responsibility to check the documents. Even if you delegate it to a member of staff, it is the employer who is liable for the fine.

When do I need to conduct these checks?

You must carry out a check before you hire a worker. If a person is only allowed to stay in the UK for a certain amount of time, you must carry out follow-up work checks.

Who do I need to conduct these checks on?

To prevent any claims of discrimination, you should carry out these checks on all your applicants.

Do not make assumptions or determine whether a check is necessary on factors such as their accent, ethnic origin or the time they have lived in the UK.

To obtain advice on this topic, please contact bira legal on 0345 450 0937 or email  

Written By:  Jennifer Ormond, Partnerships Team Manager & Senior Employment Lawyer at Ellis Whittam