What are right to work checks?
To ascertain whether an individual originally from overseas (including the EU) has the right to work in the UK, and to prevent illegal working, organisations should carry out right to work checks. In normal times, there are three steps they must complete. These are:
- obtain original right to work documents (such as a passport) from the individual
- check the validity and authenticity of the documents in the presence of the individual
- copy the documents and keep a secure, dated copy which includes the date for follow-up checks.
Alternatively, from 29 January 2019, organisations can use the Home Office’s online right to work checking service to carry out immigration checks.
What changed due to the pandemic?
In 2020, the government changed the right to work checking process so that organisations did not need to meet with staff directly. Under this temporary system, a scanned copy or photograph of documents necessary to prove a right to work should be sent to the organisation via an email or mobile app.
A video call is then arranged with the worker, where they are asked to present their original documents to the camera. These documents are then compared with the digital versions previously sent. The date of this check is recorded and noted as ‘adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19’.
Previously, it was expected that organisations would need to carry out a retrospective check through the usual method outlined above once this temporary option was stopped, however the government has since confirmed that this will no longer be the case.
What’s happening from 17 May 2021?
The temporary provision to conduct these checks virtually is to be discontinued from 17 May onwards, meaning that, generally, in-person checks will need to be conducted. Whilst video calls will still be permitted for this, a crucial difference is that the organisation will need to be sent the original versions of the important documents, not copies, which may cause inconvenience for the employees in question.
The change to this guidance has caused confusion for organisations due to the fact that working from home guidance is not changing. Currently, it is expected that, at least in England, staff will continue to be encouraged to work from home if they can until at least 21 June 2021. This reversion to the usual right to work checking process therefore does seem to go against this as it will result in more direct, in-person contact between organisations and their employees.
To this end, a number of industry bodies have contacted Home Secretary Priti Patel, asking her to reconsider the change. However, the government have so far not deviated from this and organisations will need to prepare for the change.
New right to work checking system expected
It should be remembered that a new right to work checking system is currently expected to come into force from 1 July 2021 due to Brexit, as this is when the grace period between the UK and the EU comes to an end. The government has yet to confirm what this will involve.