Thu 30 Nov 2023

Right to Work penalties set for significant increase - What can employers do?

Another significant change in immigration policy has been announced by the Home Office. The draft legislation for this change has now been introduced to Parliament and will come into force on 22 January 2024. Fines are to be tripled for employers who allow migrants without lawful immigration status to work for them.

This means the civil penalty for a first-time breach will increase from £15,000 (which was set in 2014) to £45,000 for each worker without lawful immigration status. The penalty for repeated breaches will increase from £20,000 to £60,000.

Following the recent passing of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, immigration ministers and the Government's Immigration Taskforce have suggested that this increase in fines will help to further deter people coming by irregular means to live and work in the UK.

The changes will come into effect at the start of 2024 and later this year, the Home Office will consult on options to strengthen action against licensed businesses who are employing workers without lawful immigration status.

Impact on employers

The new civil fines are significant and employers should be aware that immigration enforcement checks have increased this year, with Home Office visits targeting workers without lawful immigration status up by 50% since last year.

The criminal implications for employing workers without the right to work remain unchanged - there can be a maximum 5-year prison sentence if an employer is found to be guilty of employing someone who they knew or had 'reasonable cause to believe' did not have the right to work in the UK.

To avoid civil and criminal penalties for employing someone without the right to work, employers must ensure they have the appropriate right to work checks procedure in place. The Home Office regularly update their guidance setting out how employers should carry out right to work checks on employees. The most recent guidance was published at the end of February 2023 which sets outs the guidance for manual checks and electronic Identification Document Validation Technology checks. 

It is only necessary to carry out a check at the start of employment and, where the employee holds a temporary visa, at the time the visa expires. However, we recommend carrying out training and regular reviews or audits to make sure the procedure is being followed and to allow for any errors to be corrected.

The law in relation to right to work is by no means straightforward and a penalty can have serious consequences for any business. If you have any questions about how to carry out a right to work check, implementing a right to work policy or carrying out a compliance audit please get in touch.

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