View Full Version : oh dear: How your child's nanny could land you in prison

22nd June 2005, 20:43
How your child's nanny could land you in prison
By Simon Freeman, Times Online

Householders who employ black-market nannies could face prison under proposals published today designed to clamp down on Britain's invisible army of migrant workers.

Tony McNulty, the Immigration Minister, said the powers were directed towards catching companies, gangmasters and employment agencies that hire illegal migrants on a large scale, but accepted that they could also be used against individuals.

A key factor in deciding whether prosecution is appropriate under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill would be whether the employer was responsible for paying the National Insurance contributions of a worker found to be in Britain illegally, Mr McNulty said.

"If it is a full-time childminder living in the home and National Insurance contributions are paid, then that is an employment contract, clearly," he said.

Under the terms of the Bill, employers - of whatever scale - would be forced to pay an on-the-spot civil fine of up to £2,000 for every black market employee found on their premises.

There would also be a new offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker, carrying up to two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine. This updates the legislation from the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act, which set the maximum fine at £5,000.

Mr McNulty backed the proposals with the announcement of a new 12-strong taskforce of investigators dedicated to tracking the black market labour force.

Estimates of the number of illegal migrants working in Britain are vague, varying from the low thousands to hundreds of thousands.

Last year, there were 1,600 operations to combat illegal working which uncovered 3,330 employees. Three-quarters worked in hospitality, car washes or garages, the sex industry, shops, as cleaners or in food production.

Mr McNulty said that it was less likely that householders would be fined for hiring illegal immigrants working as plumbers, builders or other tradesmen because law defines this as a purchase, not a contract of employment.

Karen Bransgrove, director of the UK and Overseas Nanny Agency, based in Central London, told Times Online: "If anyone employs a nanny without checking that they are working legally they are quite frankly mad.

"Everyone's passport will state clearly whether they are entitled to work here or not. If they are not, then parents are taking a risk with their children. If the care is not done legally and above board and something goes wrong then there could be terrible implications."

The Asylum Bill will also allow the rollout of fingerprinting for all visa applicants. It will limit the rights of appeal for foreigners who are refused entry to work or study in the UK.

Immigration officers will be given wider powers to demand passenger and crew lists from airlines and shipping firms to crack down on illegal immigration, including powers to demand the information before the ship or aircraft arrives in the country.

The police, Customs and security services MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will also get new powers to share information about passengers, crew and freight movements to and from the UK, and the ability to pass that information on to foreign law enforcement agencies.

The Home Office estimated it would cost businesses £27.2 million to prepare for the new legislation, while the fines scheme would require 12 immigration officers and an annual budget of £480,000.

The Bill has raised concerns that employers could refuse to hire people from ethnic minorities because of the risk of prosecution.

Mr McNulty said: "I think that is a fair point. We do want to get the balance right. We do not want to instil a licence to discriminate."

He said that there would be a code of practice designed to stop employers breaking race laws.

The minister said he hoped the Bill - alongside other immigration schemes such as a points system for economic migrants - could become law by next spring.

Habib Rahman, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "This is the equivalent of asking employers to act as immigration officers and do the Home Office’s dirty work.

"People migrate here because there is work which they are needed to do. Penalising businesses for employing undocumented workers will pave the way for discrimination in the workplace and succeed in driving the most vulnerable migrants to work for unscrupulous, exploitative and unsafe employers."

Richard Ford, Home Affairs Correspondent of The Times, said: "The reason that this Bill has been introduced is that there have been very few prosecutions under the present system. Between 1999 and 2003 there were only eight successful convictions, essentially because it is so time consuming to go through the courts.

"That's why they want to bring in on-the-spot fines: when immigration officers do a raid they can immediately slap a civil fine of up to £2,000 on the employer and if it is not paid they can send in bailiffs to seize items to the appropriate value.

"It's going to be used against restaurants, farms, hotels, cleaning agencies and car wash operations.

"The only way they can get you for having a nanny is if they live-in and you pay their National Insurance contributions. That is defined as being a contract of employment.

"However, while the power does exist, it is highly unlikely that you will see immigration officers knocking on doors in the Nappy Valley of South London."