UK Illegal Working Fines Triple

Fines are set to more than triple for employers and landlords who employ or rent to those without permission to work or rent—the biggest shake up of civil penalties since 2014—the Home Office has announced. These higher immigration violation fines are due to start in the beginning of next year.

Employers in the United Kingdom will face penalties jumping from up to £15,000 to up to £45,000 per illegal worker for a first breach. Repeated breaches will result in steep fines of up to £60,000 – up from a current £20,000.

The penalty for UK landlords renting to an immigrant who doesn’t have permission will rise to up to £5,000 per lodger and £10,000 per occupier for a first breach (up from £80 per lodger and £1,000 per occupier). Repeat breaches will result in fines of up to £10,000 per lodger and £20,000 per occupier (up from £500 and £3,000 respectively).

The Home Office warned it would “consult on options to strengthen action against licensed businesses who are employing illegal workers.”

Immigration enforcement activity has already been stepped up with visits including those targeting illegal working, now at their highest levels since 2019, up 50 percent from last year.

According to Home Office statistics, almost 5,000 civil penalties have been issued to employers since the start of 2018, with a total value of £88.4m. Landlords have been fined £215,500 in over 320 civil penalties in the same period.

How to avoid illegal working penalties

There are simple steps all employers should be taking to avoid such fines using the regime of digital and physical right to work checks in place since pandemic measures allowing remote checks ended last October. These are not changing with the new penalties. The digital and documentary checks available to landlords are not changing with these soaring fines either.

It’s also good practice for employers to carry out regular compliance audits.

HR teams should conduct in-person checks if presented with physical documents, other than a Biometric Residence Card (BRC), a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) or a Frontier Worker Permit (FWP), which can no longer be accepted as physical evidence of right to work since April 2022.

Alternatively, if the documents presented are valid British and Irish passports or Irish passport cards, they can use one of the certified Identity Service Providers (IDSP) using Identification Document Validation Technology (IDVT) to check one of the above valid documents. Though we advise that where an employer is using one of the government-certified IDSPs, an employer retains legible, unalterable copies of Right to Work checks up to two years after employment ends. They should also carry out their own due diligence to satisfy themselves that the service provider has completed the check correctly, and that the photograph and biographic details on the IDVT identity check are consistent with the new employee turning up for work.

If a new employee has an eVisa, a Biometric Residence Card (BRC), a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) or a Frontier Worker Permit (FWP) or has EUSS status, employers should conduct an online right to work check using the free Home Office online checking service.

Note: Identity Service Providers (IDSPs) provide a service checking prospective employees who are not British or Irish, but unless an employer keeps a record of having done their own check – typing a prospective employee’s share code into the Home Office online checking site – they have no statutory excuse to protect themselves from a penalty if it turns out that their employee has no right to work in the UK at any stage. Employers cannot rely on checks carried out by IDSPs using the Home Office online service to establish a statutory excuse against the rocketing civil penalties.

Don’t fall foul of Common Right to Work errors 

It is easy to make small mistakes such as conducting a right to work check after a new employee has started work (including as part of their induction on their first day) or as mentioned above, relying on an IDSP for a check on an employee who is not British or Irish, or whose passport has expired.

Reacting to the Government’s announcement of higher penalties, Kate Shoesmith, deputy CEO at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, warned many instances of non-compliance are accidental. "The government should support businesses who are trying to do the right things and have good intentions. The majority who fall foul have administrative errors, for example using expired passports, which is currently not allowed,” she explained.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.