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Recrutiment & Employment Confederation

Why won’t the Home Office fix right to work (RTW)?

Government and campaigns

Patrick Milnes avatar

Written by Patrick Milnes Campaigns Advisor


In April 2022 the Home Office introduced a new digital system for checking RTW in response to REC campaigning for a permanent digital solution to be introduced. The new system allows employers to partner with an Identity Service Provider (IDSP) who can then use identity document verification technology (IDVT) to conduct a RTW check. The use of IDVT and IDSPs only applies to UK and Irish nationals, but overseas candidates can still use the Home Office’s employer checking service to conduct checks remotely. For all candidates, the old in-person checking method is also still valid. Initial reaction to digital RTW was positive, and it was seen as a step forward, however, the use of IDSPs and IDVT has some issues that need to be resolved to make the system as efficient and effective as possible.  

What are the issues with the new RTW? 

The REC wrote to Robert Jenrick, Minister for Immigration, last year to set out the concerns of our industry. There were three main issues that we asked the Home Office to address in this letter: 

  1. The disparity the system creates between UK and Irish nationals and overseas candidates, with the latter able to use the free online checking service to verify their RTW, a service unavailable to UK and Irish workers. 
  2. The confusion and inconsistency over Home Office advice on using expired passports as acceptable ID for RTW checks. The backlog at the Passport Office is also adding significant delays, and many workers cannot afford to get one just for RTW purposes. 
  3. Lastly, the cost and consistency of service being offered by firms providing digital RTW services. As there is no legal requirement for a provider to be certified, it has the potential to leave businesses, particularly SMEs, vulnerable to unscrupulous providers who do not carry out the appropriate checks. 

As well as highlighting the problems, we also set out some practical recommendations for resolving them promptly to ensure that the digital RTW system works for all employers.  

Reducing the cost of using IDVT must be a priority for the government. RTW checks are routine checks of status - with a million temporary workers in work every day, economies of scale should mean that they can be done for a few pence per check, not several pounds.  

Likewise, expanding the list of acceptable documents for IDVT services to include expired passports would be a simple solution to many of the delays we are currently seeing.  

The Home Office already has a non-mandatory certification for IDSPs so requiring providers to go through this process would help to ensure quality and consistency in service as well at no extra cost to the Home Office.  

These are all relatively quick steps that the Home Office can take to address these key issues. 

What has the Home Office said? 

Although we've had many conversations with Home Office officials and received a response to our letter, the lack of interest from the department in addressing some of these issues is incredibly disappointing. In response to our letter, the Home Office confirmed that they have “no plans to regulate the costs charged by IDSPs as this is a private contractual arrangement between the employer and their chosen provider.” This is despite the REC making it clear that current prices are not cost effective in many cases and present a substantial barrier to employers using the new system.  

Similarly, regarding our concern around non-certified providers operating in the market, the Home Office reiterated that they “recommend employers use a certified provider” but made no mention of any intention to make certification a requirement. This gives uncertified providers a licence to operate, and leaves employers exposed to potentially unscrupulous businesses who claim to carry out checks but may not provide the required level of service. In this scenario the Home Office confirmed that “the responsibility for the check remains with the employer, and they must ensure the IDSP they select to complete the identity verification element of the check carries out a prescribed check prior to the commencement of employment”. This leaves employers exposed, as the risk sits solely with their organisation and any punishment for non-compliance will be borne by them rather than the uncertified IDSP providing a non-compliant service.  

The REC is disappointed in the Home Office’s stance on these issues and will continue to push for the necessary changes to take place. These are not large-scale reforms, but small adjustments to ensure the digital RTW system fulfils its potential to help people get into work quickly and fairly. The Home Office needs to recognise these teething problems with the new system and take action to address them. Digital RTW is the way forward, but unless needless barriers are removed, it will continue to be a standing start for employers and workers alike. It’s time we had more engagement from the HO on the next steps and a commitment to work with us to understand and resolve the problems.