The recruitment industry has welcomed the news that the UK Government is to delay the return of in-person right-to-work (RTW) checks until September 1st at the earliest. The decision means the continuation of a more efficient, less logistically-challenging procedure that many are petitioning heavily to make a permanent feature moving forward.
All employers have an obligation to prevent illegal working in the UK and this includes carrying out right to work checks on all employees before they start work. Prior to March 2020 RTW checks were mandated to be in-person as an integral part of the hiring process. Pandemic restrictions would have made this impossible for recruiters; thankfully the digital checks were introduced in effort to continue the hiring process remotely as COVID remained a concern.
But surely this digital approach to RTW checks is one of the forced adaptations that should stay in place for the long-run? The pandemic has forced the world of business evolve. Any sales team choosing to negate the power of Zoom to once again suffer the logistics and expense of face-to-face meetings may be seen as naïve or even lacking environmental consciousness, digital RTW is just another process that COVID has forced refinement upon.
The digital approach has increased safety for all involved, saved time and resource for the supply chain and has no-doubt helped to slow the spread of the virus. Becoming digital has also widened its reach – this format of RTW check was available to some foreign nationals and pre-COVID, but the pandemic meant that accessibility increased to UK residents/citizens also.
Without the digital platform, over 300,000 people a week faced a potential delay in starting work assignments due to face-to-face RTW logistics. Currently, checks are being performed based on scanned copies or photos of original documents. Checks can also be carried out over video link, with the original documents in the possession of the individual. Alternatively, the employer may use the Home Office’s right to work check tool, with the permission of the individual, while in contact with them over video link. This provision has kept the recruitment industry moving during difficult times, and reverting to in-person screening would almost feel like a step backward post-restrictions.
The recruitment industry body REC has stated that a digital check takes around 5 minutes to complete, whilst an in-person check can take up to 10 times longer. REC’s Jobs Recovery tracking software recorded a surge in job adverts and vacancies in May 2021, and it is widely being reported that there is a skill shortage in many industries (due partially to the fact that foreign workers are faced with travel and quarantine restrictions). Surely reintroducing in-person checks during such a dip for the recruitment industry would be a serious disadvantage to those seeking new employment, especially since many companies are still choosing to work from home?
Stats show that the highest weekly number of job ads listed since the pandemic began was from May 17th – 23rd 2021, with a whopping 224,000 new vacancies being posted (followed by 208,000 the following week). There are drastic shortages in the hospitality industry and there have been marked increases in adverts for other skilled occupations such as teachers and welders.
The digital RTW check approach has proved to be an administrative and logistical lifeline for employers and job seekers to this point. The question to be asked of the Government as September approaches is whether it is fair, and in the best interests of all parties, that in-person checks once again become mandatory while the country is still on the path to economic recovery. It is really vital that employers are satisfied that they have done all required checks during this time in full compliance with either the standard prescribed requirements or the Covid-19 adjusted checks, as inevitably the liability falls on them if any illegal working is discovered. In addition to these responsibilities we have the introduction of the EU Settlement Scheme and the extent to which employers will be required to undertake additional checks against them from July 2021 is still uncertain.