Right to Work checks to remain digital until June 21st

Digital Right to Work checks will remain in place until June 21st 2021 and not revert to physical checks as officials said they would from today.

In an 11th hour U-turn, the Home Office said the “temporary covid-19 adjustments” allowing umbrellas and agencies to check worker identities’ virtually will continue beyond May 17th.

Made quietly to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, the announcement means a new contractor’s scanned copy or photo of original documents is still acceptable under RTW.

'Government got pushed hard'

The REC’s deputy CEO Kate Shoesmith, who admits she “pushed hard for the change”, quoted officials from the business department as telling her in a statement:

“The Right To Work team [at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy]  recognises the benefit the adjusted checking process has brought”.

Like the confederation, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies wrote to home secretary Priti Patel seeking a delay to in-person checks returning amid covid-19 lingering.

'Pressure'

“Following pressure…[on the government to extend digital RTW checks, we are] pleased that the return to physical right to work checks has been delayed”, APSCo said on Friday.

Individual agents are glad too.

Of digital RTW checks, David Taylor, who runs the London office of telecoms and technology recruiters First Point Group, told ContractorUK:

“They speed up our [own] process, but [also] make it easier for all parties when commencing a new contract assignment…[especially] making it easier for new starters”.

'Digital checks essential for many placements'

Matt Collingwood of IT recruiters VIQU says digital checks extending “can only be a good thing” for contractors, given almost half of contracts are still remote-only due to covid.

“Pre-covid, less than 3% of [our] contractors…worked fully remote," he says. "At the peak of the pandemic, we saw 80% of our new contractor placements working remotely.

“This number has since dropped to 42% of new contractors, and 22% of [new] permanents… [but] digital RTW checks have been essential in facilitating these [remote-only] placements.”

'Digital RTW checks should stay'

However, having developed a taste for ‘on-boarding’ candidates more quickly and efficiently, both agents are hungry for more from the government.

“We would like to see the digital RTW checks remain [in place] full time,” First Point Group said.

“It does predominantly make it easier for new starters, but over a period of time as contractors take up new roles, more will feel the benefit.”

'End-users concerned'

VIQU’s Mr Collingwood agrees RTW checks should be put on a digital footing indefinitely, and not just because the virtual ways of checking candidate identities is a ‘nice to have.’

“My concern is whether our clients will be able to carry out compliant RTW checks after June 21st,” he says.

“In fact, a number of our clients have already expressed their concerns about remaining compliant after the 21st, given their plans to work largely remotely for the foreseeable future.

“This highlights to me the need for a longer term practical solution given the likely increase in remote working, even once covid-19 restrictions have been lifted entirely.”

'A government review into tech-led RTW checks'

Fortunately for the two agents and the droves of contractors they put into work -- and will put into work, the government appears to be listening.

In their statement to the REC, officials at BEIS reportedly spoke of “undertaking a review of the value of technology, including identification verification technology, in supporting the right to work process going forward.”

The initial wording of the statement got APSCo’s hopes up.

'Disadvantage'

“Confirmation of a permanent move to digital checks” is what we wanted to hear, says the association’s legal counsel Tania Bowers.

“[Because] a return to physical checks will disproportionately disadvantage UK workers.”

She explained: “There is already an online checking service via a share code for EU nationals which can be remote, and for non-EU workers through the Government Employer Checking Service. However, the Passport Office has no online service for UK nationals.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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