On the Home Office’s step by step check list for how to employ someone, number two, alongside “recruit someone”, is “check they have the right to work in the UK.” For any business employing staff in the UK, right to work checks are an essential requirement. Before Covid struck these checks had to be done in person. You would take your passport or driving licence to your employer or HR department and they would check them and take a photocopy.
Due to coronavirus, temporary changes were made to the way documents can be checked. Instead of requiring in person checks, identity documents could be provided digitally and checks could be made via video call. The digital documents and online checks have been extraordinarily successful, facilitating the recruitment of half a million people during lockdown. But in March 2021 the Home Office announced a return to in person checks. This was an unpopular decision and following pressure from the business community the ability to conduct online checks was extended to June 21st. The Home Office has just announced that they have extended the temporary adjusted checks to 1st September 2021.
The situation is far from ideal. Keith Rosser, Director of Reed Recruitment, argues that in person checks do nothing to reduce the risk of employment fraud. The reversion to paper based documents will, therefore, put barriers in the path of legitimate job applications by UK nationals without reducing employment fraud. A return to in person, paper based checks will increase costs and cause delays. One UK Bank commented:
“In just the last 5 weeks we have hired circa 150 people into entry level roles in employment hotspots of NE England and South Wales. We plan to continue in this vein through the next 6 months but will be severely limited by the changes and will have to narrow where we hire.”
A number of employers estimate that the face-to-face process adds 75% more in time terms than the temporary digital one. Surely this is a time when we must be doing all we can to support individuals starting a new job as well as businesses employing new staff. Equally, we must ensure that the in person requirement for right to work checks is not retained as merely a box ticking exercise to meet a compliance burden.
A particularly compelling argument for retaining digital documents and online verification is the fact that they will be retained for non-UK nationals. On September 1st, when employers will have to return to in-person checks, these will apply to UK nationals only. We will enter the truly bizarre situation in that it will be easier for businesses to recruit non-UK nationals than UK nationals. This is surely the kind of unintended consequence the Home Office would wish to avoid.
So the digital system reduces costs and delays and has been working well throughout Covid but the incredibly serious problem of illegal working remains. Right to work checks, whether digital or in person do not appear to reduce employment fraud but the great news is that technology can provide a solution. Digital ID offers a faster, quicker, and more secure method of identifying people. There are UK companies building digital ID systems that are used by the UK Government in other areas which could be simply re-purposed for right to work checks. These systems are more secure than face to face checks, will speed up the process and reduce the cost. If the Government are truly serious about building back better then extending the temporary use of online right to work checks while it consults with HR, recruitment and technology professionals on a permanent digital identity scheme is an easy way to demonstrate that they are doing exactly that.