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Why do we all need to prevent illegal working?

Posted: 16th February 2022

The ability to work illegally is a key driver of illegal migration. It leaves people vulnerable to exploitation and results in unscrupulous employers undercutting compliant businesses. It can also negatively impact on the wages of lawful workers and is linked to other labour market abuse such as tax evasion, breach of the national minimum wage and exploitative working conditions, including modern slavery in the most serious cases.

All employers in the UK have a responsibility to prevent illegal working. This is done by conducting simple right to work checks before employing someone, to make sure the individual is not disqualified from carrying out the work in question by reason of their immigration status. Employers may be liable to pay a civil penalty of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker employed. The UK government publishes guidance on how and when to conduct a right to work check.

Upon conducting the checks as set out in guidance and the code of practice, employers will have a statutory excuse against liability for a civil penalty in the event they are found to have employed someone, who is prevented from carrying out the work in question, by reason of their immigration status. This means that if we find that an employer has employed someone who does not have the right to do the work in question, but right to work checks have been correctly conducted as required, the employer will not receive a civil penalty for that illegal worker. In addition to the codes of practice, there are a range of tools available on GOV.UK to support employers in conducting right to work checks.

Right to work checks:an employer's guide - GOV.UK (

Checking a job applicant's right to work - GOV.UK (

Penalties for employing illegal workers - GOV.UK (

The following collection of documents will also be helpful: Illegal working penalties: codes of practice for employers - GOV.UK (

The Home Office has produced a short video to help explain the process:

Conducting Right to Work checks

Employers are liable for the civil penalty even if the actual check is performed by a member of your staff, recruitment agency or a professional adviser. In simple terms, the check must be carried out by the employer who the contract of employment is with. Even if not the direct employer within a business, there are compelling reasons why employers should seek to know their employees have a right to work. If illegal workers are removed from a business, it may disrupt operations and result in reputational damage. There could be adverse impacts on health and safety and safeguarding obligations, as well as the potential invalidation of insurance if the identity, qualifications, and skill levels of workers are not as claimed. Accordingly, employers may wish to check that contractors conduct the correct right to work checks on people they employ.

Employers seeking to recruit staff from overseas, an introductory guide to recruiting workers through the UK immigration system can be found on GOV.UK

For additional help employers can also contact the Home Office:

Employer Enquiry helpline

Telephone:0300 790 6268

Monday to Thursday, 9am to 4:45pm Friday, 9am to 4:30pm

Find out about call charges

To find out more about the types of training available please email