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Penalties for employing illegal workers set to triple in 2024

Last updated 16 November 2023

The government has just released draft legislation with a proposed date of 22 January 2024 as the date the increase in civil penalty for employers employing illegal workers is due to come into force. The civil penalty is set to triple to a crippling £45,000 per worker for first offences and £60,000 per worker for repeat offences. This is a massive increase from the current £15,000 per worker for a first offence and £20,000 per worker for repeat offences.

This increase in penalties is not limited to just employers of illegal workers, but extends to landlords who permit illegal migrants to rent their properties. For landlords, the fines will increase from £80 per lodger and £1,000 per occupies for the first breach to up to £5,000 per lodger and £10,000 per occupier. Repeat breaches will be up to £10,000 per lodger and £20,000 per occupier.

This hike in the civil penalties for employers is a serious move from the Home Office in its approach to knuckle down on illegal working in the UK. A fine at this level will be crippling for many SME employers especially where multiple illegal workers are involved.

The criminal liability on employers should also not be forgotten. Employers can be sent to jail for five years and be subject to an unlimited fine if they are found guilty of employing someone who they knew or had reasonable cause to believe did not have the right to work in the UK.

What can employers do to prevent illegal working in their businesses?

By ensuring the right to work checks are carried out correctly in the first instance in line with Home Office guidance, employers are able to obtain a statutory excuse against liability for an illegal working situation. Complying with the Home Office guidance is not always straightforward as there are various potential complications that can arise based on individual circumstances. It is always best to seek specialist immigration and/or employment law advice in this instance to ensure the correct protocol is being followed.

To minimise the risks to their business, employers should also consider carrying out regular internal audits of their right to work records, and HR procedures and systems in relation to right to work checks. It would also be recommended for staff involved in right to work checking to have regular training to ensure they stay on top of the Home Office rules and guidance.

If you require further information about changes to right to work requirements, or if your business would benefit from an audit and/or team training, please contact a member of our Immigration Team for further information.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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