Restaurants and takeaways account for more than half of the penalties issued to businesses for employing workers without the right to work in the UK.
According to immigration specialists at City law firm Bates Wells business owners that employ EU nationals risk being caught out if they have not undertaken right to work checks for EU nationals employed since 1 January 2021.
The firm said it believed many employers were not be aware of the obligation to carry out these checks and risked being liable for fines in the tens of thousands of pounds as a result. It added that the UK was likely to see the number of illegal working penalties to rise as a consequence of Brexit.
Between April and June 2021, 86 penalties totalling £1.3m were issued to UK businesses, according to Home Office figures. Out of the 54 in which the business was named, 33 were issued to restaurants and takeaways, with the average value of fine issued to the sector totalling £22,121.
Chetal Patel, partner at Bates Wells, said: “Restaurant owners who have been employing Spanish, Italian or other EU workers for decades may not be aware that the right to work regime has changed for new hires.
“Given the changing immigration landscape since Brexit and the number of changes to right to work checks, it’s easy to see how mistakes could be made.”
During lockdown, there would have been less compliance activity from the Home Office, according to Patel. However, the number of penalties issued between June and September 2021 jumped 138% from just 36 the previous quarter.
She added: “The Home Office has signalled that after showing some forbearance during Covid, it’s now back to taking a tough line against businesses.”
“Many fall into the trap of hiring illegal workers because they’re a lower cost and in many cases prepared to fill roles that British or Irish nationals simply aren’t interested in. However, the risks to businesses that hire illegal workers are considerable and can’t be underestimated.”
The Home Office had traditionally carried out most immigration raids among businesses in the food service and beauty industries, she said.