In July 2021, the rules surrounding the hiring of European citizens changed. This change, which relates to any EU, EEA, and Swiss nationals, is likely to affect thousands of small business owners up and down the country – but many still aren’t aware of exactly how.

If you’re currently employing anyone from the EU, EEA, or Switzerland (or are likely to in the future), it’s important that you fully understand and adhere to the latest regulations. Failing to do so could land you a rather hefty fine.

To ensure this isn’t the case, we’ve broken down the new rules and have laid out exactly what they mean for your small business.

About the EU Settlement Scheme

At the end of the Brexit transition period (which was the 31st January 2021), the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) was introduced by the government.

The goal of the scheme was to enable European citizens that were living in the UK before the 31st December 2020 to get the immigration status they needed to continue living, working, and studying in the country.

The scheme granted a 6-month deadline, during which time employers were able to continue accepting EU, EEA, or Swiss passports as evidence for right to work checks. Now this deadline has passed, the rules have changed.

The new ‘right to work’ check

Since the 1st July 2021, it has no longer been acceptable for employers to accept a passport or national identity card* as evidence of right to work for new EU, EEA, and Swiss recruits.

Now, according to the UK Government, employers must check online that the recruit is eligible to work in the UK using:

If you fail to carry out this new check and the recruit in question doesn’t have the right to work in the UK, you might be liable for a civil penalty (fine) of up to £20,000. This penalty is for hiring an illegal worker and can be charged per person.

*Note – There is one exception to this rule. Irish citizens can continue to use their passport or passport card as evidence of their right to work.

What this means for your small business

For most small business owners, a £20,000 fine for hiring an illegal worker (knowingly or unknowingly) would completely destroy their business.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you, and any other employees involved in your business’ vetting process, are properly trained on how to conduct the correct right to work checks.

To ensure that your business doesn’t land in any hot water, your employees should be split into two categories: those hired before 1st July, and those hired after. The rules for each differ as follows…

For an employee hired before 1st July

Don’t worry – the government explicitly states that you ‘do not need to undertake retrospective right to work checks on individuals who were employed on or before 30th June 2021.’

If it turns out you recruited someone before this time who does not have the right to work in the UK, you will have a statutory excuse against a civil penalty, as long as all relevant checks were made at the time.

For all employees hired from 1st July –

If you’re hoping to welcome an EU, EEA, or Swiss citizen into your team now and in the future, you must check they have permission to work. This includes permission through the EU Settlement Scheme or a visa under the UK’s points-based immigration system.

If the candidate does not have either, you are unable to employ them.

It’s important to note though, whilst the government is wanting to clamp down on illegal workers, they also understand that mistakes can be made (and deadlines can be missed).

If you identify a European citizen who is already a part of your workforce that has not applied to the EUSS by the deadline (and doesn’t hold any other form of leave), they will be given a further opportunity to apply if they have reasonable grounds for missing the original deadline.

This includes (but isn’t limited to): where a person has or had a serious medical condition, or where someone did not have the digital skills to access the application process.

As their employer, you should advise them to make an application within 28 days.  

Making sense of the rule changes

Getting your head around these new changes can be tricky, but it’s essential that you do. The consequences of failing to conduct the required checks can be devasting for your business.

If you’re looking for further support, why not partner with the team here at Integrated Recruitment? As part of our Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) package, we can support you with the entire vetting process from start to finish – including conducting all relevant right to work checks.

To find out more, reach out to a member of our friendly team.