One of your legal obligations as an employer is to check every job applicant’s right to work in the UK prior to employing them. There are three approved right to work checks that you can use to verify that a prospective employee is allowed to work for you. We outline each of these below.
Right to work checks
Conducting right to work checks on prospective employees ensures that every person you hire is legally permitted to carry out the work that you are offering. These mandatory checks help to prevent illegal working in the UK.
Right to work checks also protect businesses against civil penalties of up to £20,000 per illegal worker, if any employee is later found to be disqualified from employment on account of their immigration status. This is known as ‘establishing a statutory excuse’ for right to work checks.
To avoid discrimination, you must check every prospective employee’s right to work before hiring them, regardless of where they are from (or where you assume they are from).
You can carry out the necessary checks in one of three ways:
- By checking a job applicant’s original documents (e.g. passport)
- Conducting a Home Office online right to work check
- Using an Identity Service Provider (IDSP)
As long as you conduct these checks in accordance with the official guidance on right to work checks, you will have a statutory excuse.
Option 1: Check a job applicant’s original documents
This manual document-based right to work check is suitable for all applicants, including UK citizens, Irish citizens, and overseas nationals.
To carry out this type of check properly and establish a statutory excuse, you must complete the following three steps before employment commences:
1. Obtain the applicant’s right to work documents
To prove their right to work in the UK, your prospective employee must provide you with certain documents. They must give you the original documents, rather than copies. Examples include:
- a current or expired passport or passport card
- a current Immigration Status Document that has been issued by the Home Office
- a birth or adoption certificate
- a certificate of registration or naturalisation as a British citizen
GOV.UK’s Employer’s guide to right to work checks (Annex A) sets out three lists of acceptable documents for manual checks.
The documents in List A are for individuals who have a permanent right to work in the UK. List B Group 1 sets out the acceptable documents for individuals with a time-limited right to stay in the UK. List B Group 2 is for individuals with a time-limited right to work of only 6 months.
You can also use GOV.UK’s online interactive tool to check which documents give someone the right to work in the UK (based on their citizenship), and which checks you need to carry out for each of those documents.
2. Check the validity of the right to work documents
The next step is to check that the documents provided are genuine, belong to the prospective employee, and that the person is permitted to do the job they are applying for.
You will need to check that:
- the photographs, name, and date of birth are all consistent across the documents
- photographs are consistent with the applicant’s appearance
- the documents show no signs of being tampered with
- the applicant’s right to work dates have not expired
- there are no work restrictions prohibiting the person from carrying out the type of work that you’re offering
- the applicant can provide evidence to explain any difference in names across their documents (e.g. original marriage certificate, deed poll, divorce decree absolute)
You must ensure that you carry out these checks in the presence of the applicant. This can be in person or by way of a live video link. In either case, you must have physical possession of the original documents at that time.
3. Make a copy of their documents
When you are satisfied with the validity of the documents, you must make a copy of each one in a format that cannot be manually altered. For example, a hardcopy or a digital file, such as a PDF or JPEG document.
These copies need to be clear enough to read. You must retain them securely for the length of the individual’s employment, and for a further two years after they stop working for you.
If an employee has a time-limited right to work in the UK, you will need to carry out a follow-up check on their documents when their right to work permission is due to expire.
You can do this using the Employer Checking Service, which will confirm whether or not you can continue to employ them. If you fail to do this, you will not have a statutory excuse.
Option 2: Conduct a Home Office online right to work check
You can check a job applicant’s right to work online if they provide you with their unique ‘share code’. This type of check is only suitable for non-UK and non-Irish citizens.
Using the Home Office online service enables you to view a person’s immigration status, check the types of work that they are allowed to do, and verify how long they are permitted to work in the UK.
To carry out an online right to work check, you need to:
- visit ‘Check a job applicant’s right to work: use their share code’
- enter the applicant’s date of birth and 9-character share code
- check that the photograph shown online is of the person who is presenting themselves for work
- retain evidence of the online check by saving the ‘profile’ page that confirms the person’s right to work. You can either print the page or save it as a PDF or an HTML file.
You must retain this evidence for the duration of their employment and for a further two years after the leave.
If they have time-limited permission to work in the UK, you will need to repeat this process again. You will do this by carrying out a follow-up check on their immigration status using GOV.UK’s Employer Checking Service.
Option 3: Use an Identity Service Provider (IDSP)
Identity Service Providers (IDSPs) use Digital Identity Document Validation Technology (IDVT) to verify the identity of UK and Irish citizens who have a valid passport or Irish passport card.
To check a job applicant’s right to work using this method, you must:
- choose an Identity Service Provider to carry out digital identity verification
- ensure that the photograph and biographic details (e.g. date of birth) provided by the IDVT check relate to the applicant. You can do this in person or via video call
- retain a copy of the IDVT identity check for the duration of the person’s employment, and for a further two years after their employment ends
You cannot use this service if the applicant is a non-UK or non-Irish citizen, or if they provide an expired passport or expired passport card. In such instances, you will need to use either the Home Office online check or the manual document-based check, respectively.
If you use an IDSP and you are satisfied with the results of the identity verification, you will have a continuous statutory excuse for the duration of the person’s employment in your business. You won’t have to conduct any follow-up checks.
If a job applicant is unable to show their right to work documents
In situations where a job applicant is unable to show the required documents or their online immigration status, you can use the Employer Checking Service to request that the Home Office checks their immigration status.
There are many reasons why someone may be unable to provide you with the required information. For example, they may have:
- an outstanding application, review, or appeal with the Home Office
- arrived in the UK prior to 1989 and don’t have any documents that prove their immigration status or right to work
You will also need to ask the Home Office to check a person’s status if they have:
- a Certificate of Application stating that you need to ask the Home Office to check their right to work
- an Application Registration Card
If the person has the right to work in the UK, the Home Office will provide you with a ‘Positive Verification Notice’ to confirm this. You must retain this document.
Help and further guidance
GOV.UK provides extensive guidance for employers on right to work checks. If you need more help, you can also contact the Home Office Employer Enquiry helpline on 0300 790 6268. Hours are Monday to Thursday from 9am to 4:45pm, and Friday from 9am to 4:30pm.
Thanks for reading
All UK employers have a legal responsibility to conduct right to work checks on every prospective employee before hiring them, even those who are UK or Irish citizens.
By carrying out these checks using one of the approved methods outlined in this post, you will help to prevent illegal working and protect your business against civil penalties.
Please visit the 1st Formations Blog for more small business advice and company formation guidance.