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Legal insights & industry updates

| 1 minute read

Home Office ramps up enforcement action on illegal working

The Home Office has publicised its recent attempts to clamp down on illegal working, confirming that it conducted more than 150 enforcement visits in one day, resulting in 105 arrests. High-risk sectors such as retail and hospitality were targeted including restaurants, car washes, nail bars, barber shops and convenience stores.                                                                                               

This recent flurry of enforcement action by the Home Office is in keeping with recent trends. The immigration enforcement statistics for the first quarter of 2023 show that 1,303 enforcement visits were conducted which represents a 57% increase on the same period last year. During the same period, more than 300 civil penalties were issued, totalling £6m in value. Whilst the latest increase signals more focused attention on enforcement activity, this is against a backdrop of a downturn in action in recent years due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Whatever the reason for this recent increase in enforcement action, it is important that businesses understand the consequences of employing workers illegally and know how to protect themselves against accusations of illegal working.

Employers can face civil penalties of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker, which is a considerable financial outlay for any company, particularly for SMEs. In addition to the civil penalty regime, employers can also commit a criminal offence if they know or have reasonable cause to believe that they are employing an illegal worker. Criminal sanctions include custodial sentences of up to five years and an unlimited fine.

Right to work checks protect employers, providing a statutory excuse against a civil penalty, and help employers comply with their duties to prevent illegal working. To provide the best level of protection, right to work checks should form an integral part of an organisation's on-boarding process. All managers involved in the hiring process should know how to conduct a compliant check and understand the importance of conducting these checks prior to the commencement of employment.

There have been various changes to the Home Office's guidance on conducting right to work checks in recent years. If your organisation needs help in understanding its duties and advice on how to conduct compliant right to work checks, please get in touch with a member of our team.

Home Secretary, Suella Braverman said: Illegal working harms our communities, cheats honest workers out of employment and defrauds the public purse as no taxes are paid. As the Prime Minister has set out, we are committed to tackling the abuse of our laws and borders.


illegalworking, righttoworkchecks, enforcement, immigration, employment law