As part of our drive against illegal working in the UK, the Government intend to toughen their approach to employers who deliberately, cynically or systematically use illegal workers. The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 introduced a civil penalty scheme, under which employers of illegal workers may be liable for a civil penalty of up to £20,000 per worker. That remains the principal means of dealing with cases of non-compliance by businesses that negligently employ illegal workers. In 2014-15, 1,974 civil penalties were issued to employers, with a total value of £29.6 million.
The 2006 Act also introduced a criminal offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker, which provides the appropriate response to those employers who deliberately flout the law. The Government believe that we continue to need both the penalty scheme and the facility to prosecute in order to provide a comprehensive and appropriate response to the whole spectrum of employer non-compliance. However, we have concluded that we should take action in this Bill to strengthen the capability to prosecute where employer non-compliance goes beyond negligence or error.
Some employers are deliberately not checking whether their employees have the right to work. They routinely choose not to know, and so cannot be found to be knowingly employing an illegal worker. The new offence will also capture those employers who should have known that the employment was illegal. In addition, some employers are dissolving their businesses and simply creating a new business, in order to evade civil penalties for illegal working. In such circumstances, it is appropriate to hold an individual employer personally to account in their capacity as a company officer, and that can be done by prosecuting the individual for committing a criminal offence. Clause 9 amends the criminal sanction in the 2006 Act to make it easier to bring prosecutions successfully and to increase the maximum custodial sentence that a Crown court may impose.