Right to Work checks – is physical or digital best?

right to work in the UK

Right to Work checks – is physical or digital best?

One of the key things that an employer must check when taking on a new team member is their right to work in the UK. Neglect to do this, and you could face a civil penalty under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. 

It’s an expensive mistake to make too because you can be fined up to £20,000 per illegal worker if you fail to carry out the prescribed right to work document checks. And you could end up with a criminal record if you knowingly employ anyone who does not have the right to work in the UK.

It all sounds a bit scary, but under normal circumstances, most employers are used to the three-step system that the Government demands. Step one is obtaining acceptable documents. Step two is checking both that the documents are genuine and that the person presenting them is the rightful holder. The final step is to take and hold a secure copy of the documents, which are kept for two years following the end of the worker’s employment.   

You can find out the detail of what you need to do here.

This is a relatively straightforward process when you can invite the prospective worker into your office. But obviously, the pandemic threw a spanner in the works. The Government responded by introducing temporary COVID-19 adjusted right to work checks.

In a nutshell, these arrangements allow employers to accept a scanned copy or photograph of the original documents sent electronically. This is followed up with a video call with the individual, asking the person to hold up the original documents to the camera, so they can be checked against the electronic copy.

Details of the adjusted scheme can be seen here.

The deadline has been extended

These arrangements were due to end on 16th May 2021 but were then extended to 20th June 2021. However, business leaders raised concerns that the delay in the full lifting of restrictions coupled with a slow return to offices would make even the extended deadline unworkable.  

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation estimated that over 300,000 people a week would have been delayed from starting work if plans to reimpose physical checks had gone ahead in June. As a result, the current deadline is now 1st September 2021.

But what will happen then? Will it be a full return to physical checks – a process that can take up to 45 minutes per person, compared to about 5 minutes for a digital one?

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies believes that physical checking is actually less safe than the digital process, as technology is better than humans at spotting fraudulent documents.  

Given the time and effort that has been expended in adapting the verification processes into a digital, remote environment, it seems sensible to us to retain some flexibility that supports the much-discussed hybrid approach to work that many organisations will adopt during the post-pandemic recovery.  

The temporary adjustments will change

Regardless, as it currently stands, the temporary adjustments to Right to Work checks due to COVID-19 will change at the end of August and employers must either check the applicant’s original documents or check their right to work online if they’ve given you their share code.  

This will throw up new challenges as employers will need to carefully consider how they manage the pandemic risk along with how to ensure the candidate and the interviewers involved are comfortable with the process.


What are your views on the subject? Do you think a return to the physical process is safer, or would you prefer to retain the option to conduct digital checks? Do join in the conversation by commenting below.


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