Industry bodies have criticised the decision by the Home Office to stop digital right-to-work checks from 17 May, imploring the government to delay making this change until after pandemic restrictions have been fully eased.
In a letter to home secretary Priti Patel, Kate Shoesmith, deputy chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, urged the government to push back any changes until at least 21 June.
She said: “While the confirmation that retrospective checks will not need to take place is appreciated, the same cannot be said for the decision to move back to in-person checks from mid May.
Checking employees’ right to work
“The digital checks have hugely benefited us all – ensuring UK business and our workforces can operate as effectively as possible and respond to spikes in demand during the pandemic.
“However, removing the ability to perform these checks digitally, whilst the nation remains under some level of lockdown does not make sense and is an avoidable barrier which could stop some of the services we all rely on – in health, care, retail, food and logistics for instance, from being provided.”
The government updated its guidance earlier this week to indicate Covid-19 “adjusted checks” of documents such as passports and residence permits – where an applicant emails a digital copy and then holds up the original for verification over video – would no longer be sufficient from 17 May.
Shoesmith added that requiring a physical check of documents takes place while there are still restrictions on gatherings was “at odds” with the government’s work-at-home guidance, which remains in place until at least June.
She pointed to the move by many employers to more remote and hybrid ways of working, and suggested that “right-to-work checks should also evolve to adjust to this new reality”.
The REC would like the Home Office to keep an open review of how right-to-work checks are carried out in the future.
The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) echoed the views of the REC, remarking at the efficiency of being able to undertake verification checks remotely.
Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at APSCo, said: “We hoped that the Home Office would prioritise the expansion of digital checks, currently only available for checking EU settlement, a process more suitable for the modern world of flexible work.
“There has been a huge amount of time and effort that has gone into adapting the right to work verification processes in a remote environment and to return to pre-pandemic systems that do not retain the flexibility that is needed in a hybrid working environment will not help organisations during this recovery period.
Bowers argued that most organisations are planning a wider return to the office from June onwards in line with planned time frames to further relax restrictions, and that insisting on original document verification until then would be “simply unworkable and will only add further unnecessary burdens on already struggling businesses”.