It is illegal to employ someone aged over 16 who is subject to immigration control and who is not allowed to do the work in question. Employers are under a positive duty to prevent illegal working in the UK.

It is important to prevent illegal working because illegal workers are often mistreated by their employers as they are not protected by employment law (e.g. the right to receive the National Minimum Wage and minimum holiday entitlement); it cheats legitimate job seekers out of employment; and undercuts law abiding businesses by allowing dishonest employers to gain an unfair commercial advantage over their competitors who operate within the law.

The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 heralded the introduction of new powers to prevent illegal working and the recruitment of more enforcement officers. Personal liability was introduced for the first time with criminal penalties for ‘knowingly’ employing illegal workers of up to two years imprisonment, unlimited fines and/or disqualification for directors. In addition, the company could be made to pay a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal worker because of ‘negligent recruitment practices’ [1].

As a warning to employers who flout immigration legislation, last month a director of a Manchester fast food takeaway[2] was disqualified from acting as a company director and for being involved in the management of a limited company in any way for six years for the company’s failure to comply with its statutory obligations resulting in the employment of three workers who did not have the right to work in the UK. This was uncovered following a visit from Home Office Immigration Officers in 2014.

Employers can protect themselves from facing such penalties by carrying out rigorous document checks prior to recruitment to ensure that a worker has permission to work in the UK.

This post was edited by Sam Myers. For more information, email

[1]These sanctions apply if the illegal worker was employed on or after 29 February 2008 and the breach occurred on or after 16 May 2014. If the illegal worker was employed prior to February 2008, or the breach occurred before May 2014, then a different regime with different penalties applies.

[2] Mrs Seema Farhat Usmani, director of the The Mughal Takeaway Limited

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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.