On 7 August 2023, the Home Secretary announced that the civil penalty for employing an illegal worker will triple from £15,000 to £45,000 per worker (for first offenders). Repeat offences will now incur a fine of £60,000 per worker (an increase from £20,000). Suzanna Ghazal, Solicitor, discusses the steps employers can take to mitigate the risk of being fined for illegal working in the UK.
The rationale behind the increases is set out by Immigration Minister, Robert Jenrick:
‘Making it harder for illegal migrants to work and operate in the UK is vital to deterring dangerous, unnecessary small boat crossings. Unscrupulous landlords and employers who allow illegal working and renting enable the business model of the evil people smugglers to continue. There is no excuse for not conducting the appropriate checks, and those in breach will now face significantly tougher penalties.’
Civil fines are not the only consequences of an employer employing an illegal worker in the UK. Other penalties include sponsor licence revocation, licence downgrading and suspension. Being in receipt of a civil penalty can also result in licencing authorities reviewing, suspending, or revoking an alcohol licence. Further, it is a criminal offence (with a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine) if an employer knows or has ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that they are employing an illegal worker. Individuals also risk being prosecuted and imprisoned for up to 6 months, and wages may be seized as proceeds of crime.
Employers are able to obtain a statutory excuse against the illegal working civil penalty by carrying out right to works checks in line with the Home Office guidance. It is also important to know that if an employee is undertaking a role which is different from that for which the certificate of sponsorship was issued and permission to enter/remain was granted, employers will be employing that worker illegally.
Although the changes will not come into force until early 2024, employers should look to review their right to work processes and internal compliance practices.
Actions which employers should look to take to minimise the risk of being liable for civil and criminal penalties include:
Conduct right to work checks on all workers before their employment starts, ensuring you are complying with the home office guidance.
Carry out regular internal and external audits of right to work check documentation and processes.
Carry out follow-up checks on work who have time limited permission to work in the UK.
Retain records of all checks carried out and the date the checks were completed (employers often forget to record the date the check was completed).
Seek legal advice if you sense that any of your workers are working illegally in the UK.
The next steps
If you would like to discuss your right to work check processes or sponsor licence compliance more generally, or you would like training on how to conduct right to work checks, please do not hesitate to contact Suzanna Ghazal at [email protected]. Alternatively, view our private immigration and business immigration services to see how our team can assist with your legal queries.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.