Good news for digital RTW checks but added costs mean bad news for recruiters

Recruitment industry leaders are welcoming the Home Office’s announcement that a permanent system of digital right to work (RTW) checks will be put into place from 6 April 2022.

However, hurdles remain to make sure the system is fit for purpose including costs, certifying suppliers that employers can use, and ensuring governance and compliance, leaders warn.

“Undoubtedly, this is great news, but there is so much to do and understand between now and 6 April,” said digital RTW check advocate Keith Rosser of the Better Hiring Institute (BHI) and Reed Screening.

Digital RTW checks have been in place since March 2020 and were “a resounding success during the pandemic”, according to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), simplifying the hiring process and allowing people to quickly and safely get into work, especially in rural areas and for remote workers. The use of these digital checks was extended multiple times, with lobbying in support by the REC, the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) and BHI.

The Home Office has been working with many organisations to bring forward a permanent digital solution. “This system should allow employers and recruiters to continue placing people into job more quickly and easily – good news considering the serious labour shortages they are still experiencing. But the solution must remain affordable for all employers – not just the largest firms,” said Neil Carberry, CEO of the REC.

“We remain concerned by the potential costs of the system,” Carberry said. “With recruiters placing a million temporary workers into roles every day, a system that charges pounds per check will be unsustainable for smaller firms. Every week, hundreds of thousands of checks are undertaken – at that scale, it should be easy to make the process low-cost. This will be a key priority for the REC in the months to come.”

The Home Office review states that the costs of using the new digital system will have to be met by employers. This could vary from £1.45 to £70 per check. Rosser says: “There will be a cost determined by the market – the more certified suppliers, the better the competition; these costs could be anywhere from 50p to £25 per check. For volume, companies can negotiate transactional costs downwards.”

The REC estimates that its member recruitment businesses conduct around 300,000 RTW checks every week. “As a result, this could result in millions of pounds of extra costs for business at a time when many are still struggling from the impact of the pandemic, as well as having to deal with increases to National Insurance and rising inflation,” Carberry said. “Processing costs for online checks like these, at this scale, should be measured in pennies – not pounds.”

These costs will only apply to RTW checks conducted on UK nationals. Meanwhile, for foreign nationals, employers can continue to use the existing free online checking service for overseas candidates. Carberry and the REC argue: “This would result in a two-tier system which disadvantages UK jobseekers in the labour market, while government are also trying to incentivise employers not to rely on workers from abroad.”

Commenting on the Home Office announcement, Tania Bowers, APSCo’s global public policy director said: “The ability to digitally manage these checks during the pandemic proved successful and we’re pleased to see that the progress made during this time hasn’t been lost.

The new Digital Identity option has a multitude of benefits. Not only does it have the capability to reduce potential fraud through using sophisticated technology to verify documents, but it also removes the geographical barriers that the traditional process presented to recruiters, employers and applicants. Removing the need for in-person verification allows businesses to recruit from broader talent pools which is crucial during a time of skills shortages.”

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