Illegal workers: What to do about Civil penalties from the Home Office


14 October 2020

By Alexandra Dean

If you are an employer concerned about illegal workers in your business, you are not alone. Many employers fall foul of the UK immigration rules each year, causing difficulties for their business, not least because of the fine that you might face and indeed the scrutiny from the Home Office. Understandably, many are all the more concerned as the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.

In this article, we set out how to deal with Civil Penalties imposed by the Home Office as one article is not enough time to explain how to navigate the complex world of UK immigration law.

Please note that this is simply a broad overview and does not replace the need for independent legal advice for specific cases. If you have already been contacted by the Home Office about illegal workers in your business, we would advise that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Are my employees working illegally?

The definition of an illegal worker in the UK is someone who is working in the UK without leave to remain. This also covers the situation where a person has previously had leave to remain, but this has expired or if their leave to remain has now become invalid for any reason.

Furthermore, a worker may have leave to remain but might only be permitted to carry out a certain type of work or job role depending on any restrictions on their documents. If the worker engages in another type of work or job role, they will be in breach of their leave to remain and may then qualify them as an illegal worker.

What should I do if I receive a Civil Penalty for employing an illegal worker?

If you are suspected of employing an illegal worker or multiple illegal workers, you may receive a warning from the Home Office accompanied by a fine known as a Civil Penalty. One of the biggest concerns for many employers is how costly Civil Penalties can be to their business and rightly so, as they are up to £20,000 per illegal worker. Furthermore, employing illegal workers can often attract negative attention in the press or on social media. As a result, it is important to act swiftly and deal with the Home Office as soon as possible.

If you have been served with a Home Office warning and Civil Penalty, it is possible to challenge the fine provided that you take action within 28 days of the date of the Civil Penalty. There are three options available to you:

  • Object to the penalty and challenge the fine;
  • Make a request to the Home Office to pay the Civil Penalty under a payment instalment plan; or
  • Pay the penalty in full

You must abide by the 28-day deadline for responding to the Home Office – because there is no possibility of an extension. You must also contact a lawyer at an early stage if you are unsure about what you should do and they will be able to guide you and assistance you through the process.

Challenging a Civil Penalty

It is important to know that if you choose to appeal, the Home Office may take the decision to increase the penalty. As a result, you must only challenge a penalty for employing illegal workers after you have received proper legal advice on your position. Only an experienced immigration solicitor will be able to advise fully on the merits of your situation and whilst this is not yet an area that we specialise in here at Gepp, we are certainly happy to point you in the direction of any contacts that we might have.

Best way to avoid this situation?

This sounds obvious – but make sure that you check your employees' eligibility to work in the UK at the point of employment and, also, regularly throughout if they have a visa or another type of leave to remain as those are subject to change (as we mentioned above).

Your contract of employment should have a clause in there whereby the employee will confirm to you that they are entitled to work in the UK, but it is still your responsibility to check this because you cannot pass the buck to them if the Home Office come knocking!

Employment Law Enquiries

If you want to discuss this or any other employment law issue within your business, please do not hesitate to contact Alex Dean on 01245 228141 or by email.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.