Digital RTW should stay

Home Office policy could delay thousands of people getting back into work every week

The REC has estimated over 300,000 people a week will be delayed from starting work because of Home Office rules. The warning comes amid concern that Right to Work (RTW) checks will not be allowed to be conducted digitally now that the final stage of unlocking has been delayed.

Introduced on 30 March 2020, digital RTW checks have allowed employers to hire new staff without having to meet them in person to check documents. This system has kept people safe, saved companies time and resources during the pandemic, and helped slow the spread of COVID-19. It also levelled the playing field between UK and foreign nationals by allowing digital checks for both, rather than just for foreign nationals.

However, the Home Office has decided to reverse this change and go back to in-person checks from 21 June, even though the final stage of unlocking is now delayed until 19 July. The REC has written to the Home Office urging them to extend the digital checks while they consult on a permanent digital solution and at the very least, until all restrictions have been lifted – to continue boosting business productivity, protect public health and get more people into work.

“There are significant labour shortages across the UK right now in every sector,” notes Kate Shoesmith, Deputy CEO of the REC. “Any delays to hiring could have serious consequences for companies and the recovery. Digital Right to Work checks have saved employers time and money and helped people get back into work quickly while public health measures have been in place. Our experience is that they have also raised compliance levels. It makes no sense for government to shoot themselves in the foot and return to mandating in-person checks when the use of digital checks has been a success story of the pandemic. We urge the Home Office to continue with digital checks until at least 19 July and use the intervening time to consult on making them a permanent feature of the labour market.”

Shoesmith adds: “Many businesses and the public are understandably disappointed that the full re-opening of the economy has been delayed. But now this has happened, it is vital that government extends the targeted support measures that have helped businesses through the restrictions – including digital Right to Work checks.”

Given increasing worker shortages, there could soon come a point where in order to fill vacancies more quickly and efficiently, foreign nationals are advantaged by the fact that employers can still check their right to work digitally. By returning to mandating in-person checks for UK nationals, government is effectively disadvantaging UK jobseekers in the labour market, while also trying to incentivise employers to not rely on workers from abroad.

The REC conservatively estimates that its member recruitment businesses conduct around 300,000 RTW checks every week. Each digital check only takes around five minutes – but an in-person check could take 45 minutes, and also incur costs for travel, cleaning and other expenses. At a time when so many companies are desperate for staff, it is critical that we minimise any delays and extra costs that could hamper the recovery.

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