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How to Avoid Civil Penalties

This information was last updated: 5 January 2016

Civil penalties were introduced as a means of deterring the employment of people illegally in the UK as long ago as 2008.

The employer can now be fined up to £20,000 per person illegally employed if they fail to carry out the rigorous right to work checks.

Between 2013 and 2014 the Home Office issued 21,049 civil penalties to employers.

Illegal workers include:

  • People who have no permission to work;
  • Illegal entrants and overstayers;
  • Student who work permitted hours;
  • Points based migrants who are not working for their sponsor.

Common mistakes

  • All employees must be checked – including British citizens;
  • A national insurance number does not prove a right to work;
  • Short form birth certificates do not prove identity;
  • Committing unlawful discrimination against a particular employee.

What you need to do

Employers must carry out “right to work checks” ; including:

  • See the workers original documentation.
  • Check the document is valid.
  • Keep copies and records.
  • Diarise to repeat the check for employees with time limited right to work.

Criminal Offence

In the same period there were 19 criminal prosecutions where the Crown Prosecution Service sought to establish that the business had “knowingly” employed the person illegally in the UK.

It is a criminal offence to knowingly employ an illegal worker. The criminal offence was created by the Immigration Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 Section 21.  The maximum penalties are:

  • Up to 2 years imprisonment.
  • Unlimited fine.

Protect your position

Ignorance of the law is no defence and civil penalties are imposed on a strict liability basis. You may be able to protect your position by following the Home Office guidance. The Home Office also produces a toolkit.

The Home Office publish details of employers who are served with single penalty notices and which have not been paid or have been served with a second notice.  For example for the first three months of 2015 over 70 businesses in London have been listed.

There are a number of household names in the list and falling foul of the civil penalty regime can clearly have an impact on the good reputation of a business.

Forth Coming Changes in the Law

A bill currently going through Parliament proposes tougher sanctions for employing illegal workers which include:

  • Creating a more stringent criminal offence.
  • Closing your business.

Can we help?

Wilsons have a highly experienced immigration team and we can:

  • Check your personnel records for compliance.
  • Inspect original documents provided by employees.
  • Advise on your procedures.
  • Give advice for specific employees.

If you require professional advice and assurance we are happy to help.

If you would like to arrange a consultation please telephone 0208 885 7979.


The information provided in this How To: is general advice and information and Wilsons Solicitors LLP accepts no liability for its applicability to the facts of your individual circumstances.

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