End to virtual right to work checks postponed

As a result of the pandemic, in 2020 the Government made it possible for employers to conduct right to work checks virtually on a temporary basis. Although it was initially scheduled to end on 17 May 2021, the end date has now been postponed until 21 June 2021.

Right to work checks are used to ascertain whether an individual originally from overseas (including the EU) has the right to work in the UK to prevent illegal working. Under normal circumstances, there are three steps that employers must complete, these are to:

  • 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.

In 2020, the Government changed the right to work checking process so that employers temporarily do not need to meet with workers directly to carry out these checks. Under this temporary system, a scanned copy or photograph of documents necessary to prove a person’s right to work in the UK should be sent to the employer via email or a mobile app.

A video call is then arranged with the worker, where they are asked to present their original documents on 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’.

What’s happening from 21 June 2021?

Although the temporary provision was originally set to end on 17 May 2021, this caused confusion for employers due to the fact that working from home and social distancing guidance is not expected to change until sometime in June 2021. It therefore did not seem practical to go against this guidance as it would have resulted in more direct, in-person, contact between employers and workers before a social distancing guidance can be relaxed. That said, it may be safe to assume that the postponement of this measure may have come as a result of several industry bodies urging the Home Secretary to reconsider the end date.

The temporary provision will now be discontinued from 21 June 2021 onwards meaning, generally, in-person checks will need to be conducted from then on. Whilst video calls will still be permitted, a crucial difference is that employers will need to be sent the original versions of the important documents needed to perform right to work checks, not copies. Whilst returning to the norm may cause some inconvenience to the workers in question, HR practitioners will now have some more time to prepare for this change.

New right to work checking system expected

It should be remembered that a new right to work checking system is currently expected to come into force from 1 July 2021 due to Brexit, as this is when the grace period between the UK and the EU comes to an end. The government has yet to confirm what this will involve.

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