Contractors' Questions: Is an agent entitled to my passport?
Contractor's Question : Are IT contractors working through a recruitment agency legally obliged to hand over personal documents, such as their passport, utility bill or P45 form, before the agent agrees to put them forward for a role? And are agents legally entitled to ask for these documents, as mine is claiming?
Expert's Answer : The answer will depend upon the status of the contractor, i.e. are they operating under their own limited company or will they operate under the agent's umbrella company? If you work under an umbrella company, then you will have an employment contract with that company and thus the agent must legally check certain documents in order to ensure that you have the right to work in this country. These documents include passport, driving licence, birth certificates etc. On top of these, the umbrella company will be responsible for PAYE and national insurance contributions hence why they would need to see your p45. If you do not provide the documentation then they risk breaching various legislation.
If, on the other hand, you are operating under a limited company then there is no need for the agent to see these documents. Their contract will be with your limited company not you personally. Theoretically they may wish to see a copy of some photographic ID to verify that you have the authority to sign on behalf of your company but even then you do not have to provide this.
The only stumbling block may well be in relation to the relationship between the client and the agency. Their contract may have certain clauses (whether required or not) obliging the agency to get certain information about contractors, therefore the agency may be acting to avoid a breach of contract. In short, you do not have to provide such information. However from a practical point of view, there is nothing forcing the agency to put you forward for a position. Therefore if you do not cooperate with their internal policies, then they may simply 'forget you' in favour of another contractor who is more agreeable.
The expert was Ben Evans, partner at Lawdit Solicitors , a legal firm specialising in intellectual property, internet and technology law.