On 7th August 2023, the Home Office announced its plan to triple fines for businesses that employ illegal migrants in the UK. The government has now published draft legislation setting out the details of the increases entitled, ‘The Immigration (Employment of Adults Subject to Immigration Control) (Maximum Penalty) (Amendment) Order 2023’. The draft order confirms that the increase in civil penalties will come into force on 22nd January 2024.
Announcing “the biggest shake-up of civil penalties since 2014”, the Home Office has said that the civil penalties for both employers and landlords who allow illegal migrants to work for them or rent their properties will triple from 22nd January 2024.
The planned changes will see the penalty for employing an individual without the legal right to work in the UK rise from £15,000 to £45,000 for the first breach. The fine for a second or subsequent breach will increase from £20,000 to £60,000.
The changes will also see much larger increases for landlords. Landlords who allow a person without the legal right to remain in the UK to rent a property will see fines increase from £80 per lodger to £5,000 per lodger and from £1,000 per occupier to £10,000 per occupier. The announcement also states that further breaches will lead to fines increasing from £500 to £10,000 per lodger and from £3,000 to £20,000 per occupier.
The Home Office has also announced its intention to strengthen action against licensed businesses who are found to be employing illegal workers.
Ultimately, it is the Home Office’s intention to make it even more difficult for those who are present in the UK without immigration permission to live and work. Explaining why the changes have been made, former Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick stated:
“Making it harder for illegal migrants to work and operate in the UK is vital to deterring dangerous, unnecessary small boat crossings. Unscrupulous landlords and employers who allow illegal working and renting enable the business model of the evil people smugglers to continue.
There is no excuse for not conducting the appropriate checks, and those in breach will now face significantly tougher penalties”.
The announcement confirms that the changes have been made because (in the words of the Home Office):
The Home Office has also made it clear that all UK employers and landlords should be checking the eligibility of everyone they want to employ or rent property to. As the announcement explains, “There are a number of ways to do this, which are not changing, including via a manual check of original documentation and a Home Office online checking system. The online check takes only 5 minutes”.
To crack down on illegal working and renting in the UK, the government created a new task force called the cross-government Ministerial Taskforce on Immigration Enforcement. Data sharing was also put in place with the financial sector earlier in 2023 to prevent illegal migrants from accessing bank accounts. As the announcement explains, the task force was set up to ensure that “every available power across government is utilised to support law enforcement activity to identify and reduce illegal migrants in the UK, and ensures only those eligible can work, receive benefits or access public services”.
The government has also cited its arrest record for those for illegal working; “Immigration enforcement activity has been stepped up with visits including those targeting illegal working, now at their highest levels since 2019, up 50% on last year. We have already arrested more people in 2023 than during the whole of 2022 as a result of this activity”.
Labour’s shadow home secretary minister, Yvette Cooper, has stated that penalties given to firms employing workers illegally have actually fallen by two-thirds since 2016, as have arrests, meaning that more enforcement action is needed; “Strengthening penalties must be combined with stronger enforcement action if the government is serious about tackling the problems”. In the words of the home affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, Alistair Carmichael, the changes represent “another pointless announcement on the asylum system which will make no meaningful difference”.
Kate Shoesmith, deputy CEO at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, believes that there is still widespread confusion about which providers to use for right-to-work checks and that many instances of non-compliance are accidental. She explained, “Employers are now able to do right-to-work checks online, which is exactly what we need in this day and age…However, it is important to ensure you have all the appropriate checks, whether in person or online. There’s been an awful lot of conversation about digital service providers for right-to-work checks. The government runs a list of approved services, but as an employer, you aren’t legally required to use one of those”. As a result, Shoesmith went on to explain, “The majority who fall foul have administrative errors, for example, using expired passports, which is currently not allowed…At the end of the day, businesses are also unable to prevent someone from providing false information, so we need to be clear where the liability falls when something like that happens”.
Employers, especially those who hold sponsor licences, must remain calm and vigilant, and ensure that they always make statutory right-to-work checks on their total workforce, in line with the Home Office’s guidance. Where needed, employers (and landlords) should seek assistance from a credible legal adviser to avoid falling foul of the rules and being penalised with expensive fines and reputational damage, all of which are completely avoidable, if the correct rules are followed.
A Y & J Solicitors is a specialist immigration law firm with extensive experience with all types of visa applications. We have an in-depth understanding of immigration law and are professional and results-focused. For assistance with your visa application or any other UK immigration law concerns, please contact us on +44 20 7404 7933 or contact us today. We’re here to help!