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Digital Right to Work Checks: Why Physical Checks Should stay in the past

On the 30th of March 2020, the UK Government made sweeping amendments to a lot of laws to allow businesses to continue to function through the pandemic. One key change that was welcomed by employers is the move towards digital right to work (RTW) checks. Companies in the fortunate position to be recruiting during lockdown had a much easier job of onboarding their new candidate’s thanks to this change.

Digital RTW checks are a key aspect of the UK Governments digital strategy, but the coronavirus pandemic seemed to accelerate these plans. Many were under the impression that in-person RTW checks would stay relegated to history as they adapted to the new way of working. Digital checks make the recruitment process quicker and more streamlined than having to physically check a candidate’s documents. However, the government recently announced that physical RTW checks would be returning.

Why are they returning? Most industry reps are a little bit unsure of the answer to that question. Originally the government planned to reintroduce physical RTW from the 17th of May but thanks to significant resistance from across most sectors of the economy, this has now been pushed back to the 21st of June 2021. This delay has been widely celebrated by recruiters across the UK.

Many employers don’t understand why the government have tried to reintroduce these checks after the success of RTW checks over the past year. In fact, lobbying campaigns from groups like The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) have tried to highlight how unnecessary it is to return to physical RTW checks.

The main argument against digital RTW checks is that it is much easier to detect fake or forged documents when checking them in person. This is definitely true for badly forged documents but, in most cases of fraud, documents are forged to a believable standard, at least to the untrained eye. The government guidance even states that employers will ‘only be liable for a civil penalty if it is reasonably apparent that it is false’. This essentially means that if you’ve checked the document in a normal manner but can’t detect the forgery with the naked eye, you have a statutory excuse if that individual is found to be working illegally.

The rush to bring physical RTW checks back also seems to conflict with the governments wider digital strategy. APSCo has highlighted that returning back to in-person checks undermines two policy streams from two separate government departments. Commenting on the subject APSCo representative Tania Bowers said:

“We also have grave concerns about the move away from what has been a highly workable and efficient remote checking process– a process which aligns perfectly with the Government’s digital by design policy and the Department for Culture Media and Sport’s digital identity strategy (…) a return to physical face to face checks completely undermines these two policy streams.”

As the global economy becomes ever more digital, the UK must stay ahead of the curve to remain competitive. The coronavirus pandemic has already highlighted the significant work that needs to be done to build the UK into a global digital leader. Returning to physical RTW checks as the default way to carry out these checks is a definite step backwards.

Employers wanting to embrace the future of work should be able to choose which checks they use when recruiting staff. Having digital tools at their disposal can be a great help, particularly for SMEs who may not have a team or individual dedicated to managing the entire recruitment process. Being able to manage compliance for RTW checks, background checks, and any other checks digitally can make all the difference to a company’s workload. To give our economy the best chance of recovery after the pandemic, businesses need to be given all the tools they need to recover. Physical RTW checks aren’t conducive to this and therefore should be left in the past where they belong.