Digital right to work checks need to be affordable for all businesses, says the professional trade body for recruitment firms. 

From 6 April 2022, the Home Office announced it will implement a permanent system of digital right to work (RTW) checks, which have been in place since March 2020, but the The Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) says it is too expensive.

The digital system allows employers and recruiters to place people into jobs quicker than before, which companies hope will help with the serious labour shortages since the Great Resignation.

Digital RTW is the right move

The REC campaigned with others including the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) to ensure the use of digital checks was extended multiple times since the start of the pandemic. They and Sterling, the firm that conducts background checks, welcomed the permanency of the system.

Recruitment firms suggest that digital checks allow people to start working quickly and safely, especially for remote workers and those in rural areas.

Previously, people had to look at physical passports and address documents to ensure their workers were legitimately able to work in the UK, which had to be done in person. 

Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the REC, said making RTW digital checks permanent was the right move from the Home Office: Recruiters have told us throughout the pandemic that this system is quicker and easier, reducing the time it takes them to get candidates into work while increasing levels of compliance and helping to keep staff safe during the pandemic. These benefits will remain important as the jobs market recovers, in the face of shortages of candidates for key roles.

Tania Bowers is Global Public Policy Director at APSCo, agreed: “The new Digital Identity option has a multitude of benefits. Not only does it have the capability to reduce potential fraud through using sophisticated technology to verify documents, but it also removes the geographical barriers that the traditional process presented to recruiters, employers and applicants. Removing the need for in-person verification allows businesses to recruit from broader talent pools which is crucial during a time of skills shortages.”

Steve Smith, Managing Director, EMEA, at Sterling said making RTW checks digital could help offset the disruption caused by the pandemic. He said: “This is a really significant moment for employers in the UK when it comes to background checks as it confirms the emerging importance of digital identity and reflects exactly what is needed to support the modern workforce and remote hiring.” 

Too expensive for smaller firms

However, the REC says this is still too costly a solution, except for the largest firms; the REC believes a simple hiring process should be available for all firms.

According to the Home Office review the costs of using the new digital system will have to be met by employers. This could vary from £1.45 to £70 per check. 

These costs only apply to RTW checks conducted on UK nationals; for foreign nationals, employers can continue to use the existing free online checking service for overseas candidates.

This, according to the REC, would result in a two-tier system which disadvantages UK jobseekers in the labour market, while the government is also trying to incentivise employers not to rely on workers from abroad. 

The REC estimates that its member recruitment businesses conduct around 300,000 RTW checks every week. As a result, this could result in millions of pounds of extra costs for business at a time when many are still struggling from the impact of the pandemic, as well as having to deal with increases to National Insurance and rising inflation.

Neil Carberry said the confederation remains concerned by the potential costs of the system for the recruitment of UK workers and plans to lobby the government to lower the costs: “With recruiters placing a million temporary workers into roles every day, a system that charges pounds per check will be unsustainable for smaller firms. Every week, hundreds of thousands of checks are undertaken – at that scale, it should be easy to make the process low-cost. This will be a key priority for the REC in the months to come.”