Levelling Up Access to Jobs

 On the 22nd February the Conservative Science and Technology Forum is hosting an on-line parliamentary briefing meeting for the Better Hiring Institute and Reed Screening on the digital processes for checking  Right to Work that are due to come in on April 6th.  The report of the CSTF meeting (last June) to call for such processes can be found here and I blogged on the need for Home Office to extend the temporary on-line processes  just before the previous deadline expired at the end of August.

Over 400 employers attended a briefing with officials from Home Office and DCMS on 27th January when we learned that, welcome though the new processes are, those without a current UK passport will not be able to use them. More-over, the timetable for approving “Certified Identity Service Providers” (ISDPs) to use “Identity Document Validation Technology” (IDVT”) to “conduct right to work and right to rent checks” will give employers only ten days to pick a supplier from the 70 or organisations who have applied to register.

More than 1 in 6 UK “citizens”, rising to more than 1 in 4 in the rural and coastal areas most dependent on temporary workers for seasonal and summer labour, do not have a current passport (I have used figures taken from the 2011 census. The figure is believed to have risen to 1 in 5 during lockdown because blocks on foreign travel removed the incentive to renew).

They will, once again, be at a disadvantage against overseas applicants whose right to work in the UK has been organised, on-line, in advance (e.g. EU Citizens with an eVISA).

This problem is not new. It dates back to the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act of 2006 (see the archived guidance for employers on the attempt to simply the processes in 2014). The 2006 legislation was supposedly intended to protect illegal immigrant workers from abusive and exploitative behaviour. It turned out to be one of the driving forces behind support for Brexit among those who saw migrant workers bussed in from Eastern Europe, having been able to have their applications processed on-line, while they were unable to apply for the same jobs locally.

One of the unexpected successes of Covid was the levelling up of employment opportunities as those in disadvantaged communities with adequate broadband were able to get jobs on-line without the need to travel to the far end of the UK carrying documentation to “prove” their right to work.

The Home Office has announced that from April 6th 2022 those with a current UK Passport will be able to use certified identity service providers (IDSPs) to “prove” their right to work in the UK without having to produce paper documents for physical, face to face, checking. Those without valid passports will have to revert to paper-based checks akin to those which led to the Windrush scandal. Credible forgeries of the paper documents used as “evidence” are readily available  meaning that the estimated million or so illegal immigrants will once again be at a significant advantage over those who stick by the rules.

Introducing the new processes will be a major challenge, hence the importance of the parliamentary briefing on 22nd February to help ensure success. Contact [email protected] or go online at www.betterhiringinsitute.co.uk for an invitation to watch.   

But those processes will not be enough to enable local residents, particularly those in coastal and rural areas or former “Red Wall” towns without neither adequate broadband nor passports, to compete on an equal footing with those from overseas.

The ISDPs need to be able to certify those without a current passport. Without this extension the focus on digital identities will compound the problems of exclusion.

Hence the importance of the proposal being put forward for discussion and submission via the Conservative Policy Forum Skills and Employment National Discussion Group) that: IDSPs be invited to provide on-line right to work checking services, for those without current UK/Irish passports, based on a mix of:

  • birth/adoption certificate,
  • national insurance number and payment/benefits status (is it genuine? has it been active in last XX months?).
  • income tax refence number and payment status (is it genuine? has it been active in the past XX months?).
  • other approved documentation – for those not born in the UK
  • bank account/credit reference – those in most need of assistance to move from welfare to work are least likely to have these.

And to make these available via Post Offices, Community Centres, Citizens Advice etc to those without reliable, local on-line access.  

Below is the draft supporting material for the CPF Proposal.

The scale of the Problem

The 2011 census found that 16.5% of UK residents had no passport of any kind. The proportion is believed to have risen to over 20% as a result of termination of most foreign travel during Covid lockdown. In 2011 the range was from under 7% for Inner London and 16.6% in Greater Manchester to over 27% in North Norfolk, Waveney (Lowestoft) and Stoke-on-Trent . In general passport holding was lower in those rural and coastal areas most heavily dependent on seasonal labour (e.g. 25.2% of Cornish residents and 24.4% of those in Lincolnshire). That it was easier to import seasonal workers from the EU than to “prove” the right to work of local residents, was one of the reason such areas supported Brexit more strongly than most.

  • To make it easier for those in rural/coastal areas to recruit and/or be recruited on-line, particularly for temporary or seasonal work.
  • To make it easier for those on benefits and/or in temporary accommodation to be recruited on-line.
  • To reduce the use of forged paper-based documentation by making on-line checking routine
Expected Long Term Impact
  • Major shift in recruitment effort for temporary/seasonal staff from immigrants (whether their documentation is genuine or not) to UK residents on welfare to work and/or custodial rehabilitation programmes.
  • Major hit to the economics of people smuggling and related modern slavery operations.
  • Permanent drop in welfare/benefits payments as recipients get into legitimate paid employment immediately after interview (including on-line) as opposed to after document/status checking.
Possible Unintended Consequences

There is a real risk of Increased “fogging” (the false obtaining of genuine) with regard to birth certificates and records of tax and benefits payments and receipts. DWP has only recently begun to invest in its counter-fraud operations and the minister responsible for counter-fraud has just resigned because the planned legislation, including to strengthen the expertise and resources of the Government counter fraud profession, has been postponed.

Public sector fraud is a long-standing problem that needs to be urgently addressed anyway. Both sides in Northern Ireland funded their terrorist campaigns from benefits and agricultural fraud. Today we are haemorrhaging £billions to nation state actors who use cyber-crime to top up the defence budgets of their own nation (e.g. North Korea or Russia) not just the life styles of organised crime.

Supporting evidence or experience of others

 Most EU member states use residence registers (linked to both ID cards and records of employment and payment of taxes) to assess rights to access public services and benefits. The absence of such processes is one of the reasons that so many refugees and economic migrants seek to enter the UK rather than claim asylum elsewhere. Once in the UK false documentation is readily available. Hence the reason people traffickers commonly promote the UK as a destination. Only UK citizens and legally entitled residents who play by the rules are penalised.

 Cost and costing rationale

The cost is for processes to enable ISDPs to check that claimed NINOs link to recent employment and/or benefits payments, that claimed HMRC reference numbers link to active tax records and/or that other Government Documents relate to genuine records.

These will be massively outweighed by reductions in benefits payments and increases in taxable revenues as the time taken to move from benefits and into employment after a job offer (whether on-line or physical accompanied by an on-line check) shrinks from days or weeks to minutes.

Department responsible

Home Office supported by DWP and HMRC

Mechanism for Evaluation

Reductions in benefits claimants, unfilled vacancies (particularly for temporary and seasonal workers) and it pressure for visa waivers for overseas workers.

Accountability for Implementation

Home Office and, to a lesser degree, DWP and HMRC.

 What Criticism should we anticipate?

Why has it taken so long to act on problems which began under the last Labour Government?

The relevant legislation was passed in 2006. As problems emerged, action was taken at the behest of large employers, including the NHS and government contractors, to improve the processes for overseas (including EU) applicants, leaving those in rural and coastal communities without a voice … until the Brexit referendum.


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