End to virtual right to work checks postponed

As a result of the pandemic, last year the government made it possible for employers to conduct right to work changes virtually on a temporary basis. This is now due to end on 31 August 2021. 

What are right to work checks?

To ascertain whether an individual originally from overseas (including the EU) has the right to work in the UK, and to prevent illegal working, employers should carry out right to work checks. In normal times, there are three steps they must complete. These are:

  • obtain original right to work documents (such as a passport) from the individual
  • check the validity and authenticity of the documents in the presence of the individual
  • copy the documents and keep a secure, dated copy which includes the date for follow-up checks.

Alternatively, from 29 January 2019, employers can use the Home Office’s online right to work checking service to carry out immigration checks.

What changed due to the pandemic?

In 2020, the Government changed the right to work checking process so that employers did not need to meet with staff directly. Under this temporary system, a scanned copy or photograph of documents necessary to prove a right to work should be sent to the organisation via an email or mobile app.

A video call is then arranged with the worker, where they are asked to present their original documents to the camera. These documents are then compared with the digital versions previously sent. The date of this check is recorded and noted as ‘adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19’.

Previously, it was expected that employers would need to carry out a retrospective check through the usual method outlined above once this temporary option was stopped, however the government has since confirmed that this will no longer be the case.

What’s happening from 31 August 2021?

The temporary provision to conduct these checks virtually is to be discontinued from 31 August onwards (previously 17 May then 21 June), meaning that, generally, in-person checks will need to be conducted. Whilst video calls will still be permitted for this, a crucial difference is that the organisation will need to be sent the original versions of the important documents, not copies, which may cause inconvenience for the employees in question.

The change to this guidance originally caused confusion for employers due to the fact that working from home guidance is not changing. Currently, it is expected that, at least in England, staff will continue to be encouraged to work from home if they can until at least 19 July 2021. This reversion to the usual right to work checking process prior to this date therefore did seem to go against this as it would have resulted in more direct, in-person contact between employers and their employees.

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