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Know your rights guide


Find out about your rights relating to working in the UK, and how current rules affect both employers and employees.

It is illegal to employ someone who does not have permission to work in the UK. It is also illegal to work if you do not have permission to do so. Employers have to check their employees’ documents.

What is happening?

Immigration officers are allowed to enter Licensed Premises without a warrant or written authorisation to check if people working there have the right to work.

Licensed premises are:

  • Places selling alcohol, for example pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants and off-licenses
  • Places selling late night refreshment. This means hot food or hot drinks between 11pm and 5am, even if it is not consumed on the premises. Examples: cafes, restaurants, takeaways
  • Places providing entertainment, including: theatres, cinemas, indoor sporting event, boxing, concert venues, clubs
  • Social, sporting or political clubs.

The penalties for both employees and employers who break the law have recently been increased.

Advice for employers

What checks do I need to carry out before employing someone?

There are three steps you will need to follow to check if someone has the right to work:

  • Ask them for their identification documents (e.g. passport).
  • Check the documents are valid in their presence.

Make copies of the documents and store them securely. You should also record the date the checks were made and the name of the person who made the check.

The law says that employers must do and record these checks. But you do not have to co-operate with immigration officials beyond this.

What should I do if Immigration Enforcement visits my business?

Immigration Enforcement can only enter your business if they have written authorisation:

  • A warrant with the name of the person they are looking for
  • A letter from a Home Office Assistant Director, which must show the name of the person they are looking for.

In many cases, Immigration Enforcement make people sign a consent form, which means they rely on your voluntary agreement to enter the business and investigate. You are under no obligation to sign it and you can politely ask them to leave your business (if they have already entered). If this happens, you can expect them to return with a written authorisation within a few days or weeks.

You are not obliged to let them in your business if they do not have written authorisation.

What if I am caught employing someone who does not have permissions to work?

You can be fined up to £20,000 per undocumented worker, or face a prison sentence of up to 5 years or both. Nobody has yet been sent to prison for employing someone without permission to work. Immigration officials also have new powers to take away property or earnings or close down businesses.

If you are given a penalty, you should seek legal advice immediately from a solicitor. Even if you are caught employing someone illegally, there are ways to appeal or to reduce the fine.

Advice for employees

What are ‘right to work’ checks?

Immigration laws have increased employers’ responsibility for the immigration status of their employees, migrants and British workers from BAME backgrounds. Employers are required to conduct ‘right to work’ checks. Some employers use an Employer Checking Service (ECS) to assess ‘right to work.’

ECS checks issue negative verification notices for individuals who are not subject to immigration rules. Errors can occur during this process, which can put you in a difficult position. Home Office officials can give wrong advice, when it comes to the right to work. As a result, employers who are not immigration experts are likely to suspend you, or terminate your contract on the spot, so it is urgent you seek advice as soon as possible, learn about your immigration / employment rights.

What if I am caught working illegally?

People without the right to work could have their earnings or properties taken away by the government. In some cases, there is also a risk of being detained and/or deported.

For more information and support

Migrants’ Rights Network

020 7424 7386
07534 488696
Monday to Friday 9.30am to 5.30pm [email protected]

Anti-Raids Network know-your-rights
(available in different languages)

Bail for Immigration Detainees

020 3745 5226
(If you have been detained and need support)