The increasing costs of non-compliance: Civil penalties for employing illegal migrants


From the start of 2024, fines for employers found to be employing illegal migrants are to be more than tripled.

In typically strong rhetoric, the Home Secretary announced on 7th August that:

  • The illegal working civil penalty, for a first offence, is to be increased to up to £45,000 per illegal worker (up from £15,000)
  • Repeat offences are to be increased up to £60,000 per illegal worker (up from £20,000)

The statement also added that the Home Office will consult on options to strengthen action against licensed businesses who are employing illegal workers.

You can read the full statement here.

Since the start of 2018, almost 5,000 civil penalties have been issued to employers, with a total value of £88.4m.

Business owners beware

All employers in the UK have a responsibility to prevent illegal working. You do this by conducting right to work (RTW) checks before employing someone.

If you conduct the checks properly, you will have a statutory excuse against liability for a civil penalty in the event you are found to have employed someone who is disqualified from carrying out the work in question, by reason of their immigration status. This means that if the Home Office find that you have employed someone who does not have the right to do the work in question, but you have correctly conducted RTW checks, you will not receive a civil penalty for the illegal worker.

How to conduct a right to work check

Employers must conduct a check using one of the following three methods:

  • Manual Right to Work Check: British and Irish passport holders.
  • Services of an Identity Service Provider (IDSP) to verify identity: British and Irish passport holders, and Irish passport card holders.
  • Online Right to Work Check: All individuals issued with electronic status, Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), Biometric Residence Card (BRC), Frontier Worker Permit (FWP). Employer Checking Service (ECS) – individuals with pending applications.

Ongoing compliance 

Understanding and complying with Home Office guidance can be difficult. Employers should ensure they consider the below when putting together a system that aims to meet their compliance and RTW obligations:

  • Day 1 checks on all employees' first day of employment (or prior to commencing employment) – an RTW check should be taken in the appropriate manner and retained on file.
  • Providing training to staff responsible for completing RTW checks.
  • If a sponsor licence holder, ensuring Sponsor Management System is kept up-to-date.
  • Tracking all visa expiry dates and sponsored migrants' contact details.
  • Carrying out periodic audits of RTW check documentation and processes.
  • Taking swift action where potential illegal working is identified.

Howard Kennedy is here to help 

Business owners sponsoring migrants must ensure they have robust HR and RTW checking processes in place to meet their obligations as an employer and sponsor licence holder.

The above provides only summary examples of good practice. Howard Kennedy's excellent Immigration team is here to guide employers through Home Office guidance and provide tailored advice that ensures compliance with the illegal working rules.

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