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Government extends digital right to work checks to 2022

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Employers carrying out right to work checks will be able to continue doing them digitally until 5 April 2022 following updated government guidance.

The Home Office temporarily introduced the ability to do them digitally on 30 March 2020 following the coronavirus outbreak.

Physical checks were due to be reintroduced on 21 June this year.

The Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) is one of several groups which has campaigned for the 2022 extension. 

Speaking to HR magazine, REC chief executive Neil Carberry said it was great news for anyone hiring in the UK right now.

“Digital right to work checks have been a resounding success during the pandemic, allowing companies to hire quickly and safely as well as improving compliance,” he said.

“It makes complete sense to extend their use, especially considering the unprecedented labour shortages we are experiencing now.”

However Dora-Olivia Vicol, CEO of the Work Rights Centre (WoRC) which seeks to help UK and EU nationals exit precarious work, is concerned that misunderstandings of the new process is locking EU citizens out of employment.

Vicol told HR magazine: “To function correctly, digital right to work checks require a level of digital literacy, hardware and connectivity which workers don't always possess, particularly at the low-pay end of the labour market.”

WoRC research found that one in five EU nationals working in manual sectors have been unable to issue the share code needed to prove their right to work through the EU Settlement Scheme, and so a physical document check may still be preferable in some cases.

“Another major problem occurs when businesses themselves don't take the time to understand the new process, particularly for applicants who are still awaiting status,” added Vicol.

“Since 1 July when the digital checks were introduced for people with EUSS, we have heard from several workers who were dismissed or rejected from recruitment, as a result of employers' misunderstanding of the process.

“For this transition to digital checks to work, it's vital that businesses take the time to familiarise themselves with the new process, and that the Home Office implements measures to ensure that digitally excluded workers are not penalised."

On 25 August, the REC wrote a letter to the Home Office arguing that continuing digital right to work checks would help the UK solve its problems with worker shortages.

Going forward, Carberry added the REC was hopeful of working with the Home Office to create a more permanent digital solution.

Gillian McKearney, senior associate at Fieldfisher, is also hopeful that a more permanent digital solution will follow the extension.

She told HR magazine: “This [digital right to work checks] will remove the headache of obtaining manual documents at least until April 2022, at a time when many employers are still navigating the ongoing pandemic and hybrid or remote working arrangements for their workforce and we are hopeful that digital checks will become a permanent option.  

“This should facilitate a smoother compliance process for HR teams as long as they do follow the correct process for remote checks in the guidance.”

Between 30 March 2020 and 5 April 2022, right to work checks can be carried out using scans of the original documents and video call.

Any checks made using this method must be recorded by the employer as 'adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19.'