Online right to work checks being here to stay is a historical boost to digital recruitment

Omicron may have made last month’s festivities quieter for many contractors but over the Christmas holiday I’m delighted to say a totally new era for digital hiring was ushered in, and it will do nothing shy of change the contractor recruitment landscape forever -- and for the better, writes Better Hiring Institute chair Keith Rosser, a director of Reed Screening.

Before some FAQs on what the new digital right to work checks system -- facilitated by Identification Document Validation Technology -- will mean in practice, let’s back up so we can gauge how we got here, and just how momentous digital right to work checks being made permanent really is.

Without covid, we might be without this massive boost to contractor hiring

Before the coronavirus pandemic, all employers had a legal duty to check the Right To Work (RTW) documents of every employee, worker, and contractor, face-to-face. This all changed in March 2020, as the country went into lockdown.

I remember discussing the implications with Home Office policy officials at the time. How would the UK allow hiring and recruitment to continue with the majority of people and companies working remotely?

Four deadlines were set by the government across 2021 to reintroduce face-to-face RTW checks, and four times we were successful at the Better Hiring Institute in postponing the reintroduction. This opposition to physical checks involved parliamentary questions, parliamentary events, an all-party political group, an inquiry, and finally a briefing to Number 10.

Then, as 2021 drew to a close, the Home Office announced a permanent digital route from April 2022, albeit pending the outcome of a review into the available technology.

The December 27th announcement: a Christmas gift that’s a starting pistol 

During the process of delaying the move to face-to-face checks, the Home Office commissioned a survey to understand the views of industry more formally.

The results were overwhelmingly pro-digital. And more than that, they were almost entirely ‘anti’ the return of face-to-face checks. Digital being safer, faster, more secure, and less of a barrier to industry during these stll-unusual times. 

It was, and is still not, completely straightforward however. While the results were clear, how could the Home Office suddenly switch from a manual process to a digital ecosystem?

The stars, they were aligning

Fortunately, this is where the stars were aligning. In February 2021, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced their intentions for a digital identity system for the UK. In my role with Reed, and my role as chair of the BHI, I was asked to join the strategy group, with my remit being to represent hiring. Following meetings with the then minister Oliver Dowden, the work commenced. Essentially, DCMS could provide the Home Office with the route to digital they required. 

At the same time, in the background, I championed the need to move the Disclosure Barring Service (DBS), totally online. In effect, this is the way contractors and others are police and security-checked for relevant roles. Well, all three departments came in to line up to create the pathway for what I call ‘Digital Hiring.’ 

But given the need for approval by three separate ministerial offices, it was no overnight task. And this part explains why the clearance for this important policy  change only emerged on December 27th. But why then -- when so many people are off work? Why not wait until the new year?

So why now, and why the rush?

The cross-departmental statement of Dec 27th to go ahead with the new digital system dependent on IDVT boils down to the simple fact that there is a lot to do before April 6th comes around.

Digital identity providers under the DCMS scheme need to be certified (none are currently but this process should start this month); employers and government need to ‘map out’ the processes, and there is much detail to work out, technologically but also in terms of compliance and governance. And all in just three short and notoriously busy months!

So contractors will likely see a bit of rush on in the coming 92 days because engagers will have to either use the ‘pre-covid’ face-to-face RTW option or the new digital route. Either way, employers will not be permitted to continue with the current temporary rules whereby worker documents are seen via video interview (Skype, Teams etc) from April.

This means if employers cannot implement what is a significant change in time, contractors will have to physically visit their umbrella, agency, or employer, in-person with their documents when moving to a new company from April 6th 2022. So this is serious, and time-sensitive. 

Practical questions for contractors

First and foremost, contractors need to know whether their next employer/engager after April 6th 2022 can facilitate the digital/IDVT route. If the organisation cannot, can the contractor put up with having to travel, in person, simply to assert that they have a Right To Work? 

Second, not all contractors will have or want a digital identity (certain documents can't be used, such as a birth certificate), so this will create a two-tier hiring system. A slow one for those without digital identities, and a fast one for those with.

So my advice to all contractors is this. Either prepare yourself for a digital identity, or plan to move assignment or role before April 6th 2022.

Alternatively, plan for any subsequent move post-April 6th so that the manual process does not harm the job opportunity (N.B. the risk is you lose out on your desired contract when pitted against a contractor who can be hired remotely, much faster). 

How do I get a digital identity?

Well, acquiring your digital identity should hopefully be very simple.

In principle, an employer or umbrella company should be able to send a link to an app or online process that enables a contractor to scan their documents to create their digital identity.

But notice I say “should” because this detail is dependent on which companies become certified as IDVT providers. It does however also depend on the documents a contractor has, as certain identity documents will not be supported under the new digital system. 

The governance dilemma

Will companies migrate to the new digital RTW system in time, after pushing for it for so long? And given this governance-compliance issue will be alive on April 6th but also beyond it, how will the Home Office ensure companies do not simply continue to check documents via video links?

So, to reiterate and to get into those FAQs I promised at the outset:

1. Can UK employers conduct RTW checks via video conferencing after April 6th?

No. The new rules require face-to-face checks or the usage of Identity Document Validation Technology (IDVT), a tool via the new DCMS digital identity framework.

Digital right to work FAQs (continued), from April 2022

2. How do contractor umbrella companies and other employers choose an IDVT supplier?

From January 2022, suppliers will be able to gain certification with DCMS. This is important as to run the new digital checking system, engagers/employers must only use certified suppliers.

3. Will employers be able to continue using Teams/Skype for RTW from April?

No (see Q1’s answer). But what employers can do is continue to use such video calling software for some of the process, such as interviewing. But for RTW purposes, the employer will need to integrate an IDVT supplier. Alternatively, an employer could choose a supplier which offers both functions.

4. Will the new digital checks cost money?

Yes, and no. There will be a cost determined by the market (the more certified suppliers the better the competition). These costs could be anywhere from 50p to £25 per check. For volume, companies can negotiate transactional costs downwards. Employers can still use the face-to-face route for free, but that itself can cost candidates the opportunity, aside to commuting costs.

5. Can employers still use employee/pre-employment screening companies?

Yes. Nothing really changes there. The employer will remain responsible for conducting the check. The employee screening may be able to use the check for the DBS and other processes. This is among the many issues still to be ironed out.

Final thought

RTW checks remaining digital is undoubtedly great news but there is much to do and understand between now and April 6th. For further help and guidance tailored to your circumstances, a free webinar is available.

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Written by Keith Rosser

Keith Rosser is a labour market expert with almost 20 years working in hiring. Currently a Group Director at Reed, the UK's largest family-owned recruitment business, and Chair of 2 joint UK government and industry bodies: the Better Hiring Institute and JobsAware.
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