Right to Work checks: a guide for employers

Find out what a right to work check is, how they work, and what documents are required to complete one.

Our experts

We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality.
Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Employment law states that every new recruit must be subject to Right to Work (RTW) checks. This is a crucial part of the recruitment process, and is there to make sure that a person has the right documents to be legally employed in the UK. Naturally, it is particularly important if you’re hiring from abroad.

Overseas recruitment is especially popular with today’s bosses, with the Great Resignation significantly draining the UK’s talent pool. Many HR managers are working around the issue by looking further afield, seeking to poach individuals from the EU and beyond.

There are challenges to consider. Brexit has complicated the hiring programme for EU nationals; changes brought about in October 2022 put more onus on an employer to ensure right to work compliance, and a rise to the skilled worker salary requirement announced in December 2023 have all made it tougher to hire from abroad. The penalties for getting right to work checks wrong, however, remain severe.

In the below guide, we’ll go through the entire RTW process from beginning to end. We’ll explain when and how to do them, and what documents are required, so you can recruit with confidence.

What is a Right to Work check?

Right to Work checks are part of the pre-employment screening process when hiring a new team member.

They are a critical part of the recruitment and onboarding process, as the most effective way of ensuring that a prospective employee has the legal right to work in the UK (also known as ‘leave’).

Not all pre-employment checks are mandatory. It’s always a good idea to look into a candidate’s career history, for example, to confirm that those five years working at the United Nations weren’t really spent dossing about on the sofa.

However, there are several key pre-employment screening checks that a business owner must carry out to comply with the law. That includes Right to Work checks.

Most commonly, RTW checks are carried out in businesses based across the construction, manufacturing, and agriculture industries, as they tend to hire mostly from abroad.

These checks are relatively simple to complete. However, because of the potential legal ramifications of getting it wrong, it’s paramount that employers know exactly what documents are required, as well as the pitfalls to avoid.

Types of Right to Work checks available

During the pandemic, the Home Office introduced temporary adjusted right to work checks, allowing photographs or scanned copies of identification documents to be checked in place of physical, original documents.

At the time, this meant checks could be carried out remotely over video calls, as global lockdowns made it impossible to conduct them in person.

That is no longer the case. Since 1 October 2022, employers now have three options in relation to RTW checks. These are:

  1. Carrying out a manual check, by meeting the potential employee in the flesh and viewing physical, original documents as proof of their identity.
  2. Carrying out an online check using a share code. This is mandatory in cases where the potential employee has a UK residence card.
  3. Commissioning Identity Service Providers (IDSPs) to complete digital right to work checks for British and Irish citizens (more on this below).

Infographic showing the three types of Right to Work checks: manual checks, online checks, and Identity Service Providers (IDSPs)

Who is responsible for conducting Right to Work checks?

Following the rule changes introduced in October 2022, it is the sole responsibility of the employer to carry out Right to Work checks.

Who carries out this check will differ depending on the applicant’s employment status and how long they have been working at the company.

Initial and follow-up checks for British and Irish workers, for example, can be completed by any member of staff in the relevant department. However, initial and follow-up checks on EU or non-EU applicants are more complicated and should be overseen by a company’s Human Resources team.

Why you should conduct a Right to Work check

As we explain in more detail below, Right to Work checks are a legal requirement. Not carrying out one will put you at risk of being fined by HMRC and even possibly facing a jail sentence.

If, for some mystifying reason, that is not a strong enough incentive for you, there is still a strong business case for performing a RTW check.

Hiring has become a major source of entrepreneur stress in the last 12 months. The Great Resignation has seen thousands of mass quittings across sectors, causing jobs vacancies to shoot up.

Combined with the cost of living crisis, which has all but decimated staff morale, more companies are struggling to find talent and manage heightened staff turnover. Against the backdrop of these worker shortages, a record number of employers are searching for alternative hiring routes, like recruiting from overseas.

Knowing how to legally and ethically source staff from both the UK and abroad will give HR managers access to a wider pool of applicants during what’s become a troubling recruitment run.

This will automatically increase the chances of identifying knowledgeable, experienced workers for your team.

As an added bonus, implementing a smooth RTW check process will also get you off on the right foot with new hires, meaning you’ll be more likely to retain employees when they begin working for you.

When should employers carry out a Right to Work check?

Every new employee needs a Right to Work check. Even if you and a candidate go ‘way back’, you must conduct a RTW check before any contract is signed. It is a fundamental step in the pre-employment process.

We recommend that checks are carried out at the interview stage. Any later and you’ll potentially end up falling in love with a candidate who can’t legally be hired, wasting both money and time spent on admin.

Where an individual is already employed in a business, or has an outstanding visa/immigration status application, managers should check this by using the government’s free online Home Office Employers Checking Service (ECS).

If the person has a right to work, the ECS will send you a ‘Positive’ or ‘Negative’ verification notice within five days. This provides a legal defence for employers for up to six months, in case the individual’s immigration status expires in this time.

You do not need to do checks for existing employees from the EU, EEA or Switzerland if they came to the UK before 1 July 2021.

Do UK citizens need a Right to Work check?

British or Irish citizens should provide certain documents for a Right to Work check but these are typically easier to find and quicker to approve.

In the first instance, British or Irish applicants should show their passport (regardless of whether it has expired).

If this is not possible, they will need to show their employer two alternative documents. 

  1. A document with their name and National Insurance number on it. This can either be from the government or a previous employer. For example, a P45 form.
  2. A birth or adoption certificate (or a certificate of registration or naturalisation).

How to conduct a Right to Work check

👣Step 1: Arrange a meeting with the applicant and tell them to bring original documents that prove their immigration status. Or, if the person has a UK residence card and you are checking remotely, a valid share code.

You can no longer accept biometric residence cards or permits as proof of legal status.

👣Step 2: Check that the documents are valid with the applicant present. Use the GOV.UK website to check the share code. Clarify that the documents will not expire before the person can start work.

👣Step 3: Make and keep copies of the documents and record the date you made the check. If your employee’s right to work is time-limited, make a note to check their documents upon expiry.

Right to Work checks infographic

What is a Right to Work share code?

Share codes are an online nine-digit alpha-numerical code that can be shown to employers to prove a person’s right to work if the checks cannot be carried out in person. Share codes have replaced biometric residence cards or permits.

Employers should ask all interviewees or staff members with a UK residence card to provide a share code when conducting RTW checks. They can be sent via email or told in confidence.

Screenshot of the GOV.UK website for finding a share code

Screenshot of the GOV.UK share code service

Managers can then use the free service on the GOV.UK website to check that the share code is valid. Once confirmed, the individual will have clearance to start working at the company.

How do you create a share code?

If you are a job seeker trying to prove your right to work, you can easily create a share code free of charge on the government website. You’ll just need one of the following documents to get started:

✔️Your biometric residence permit number

✔️Your biometric residence card number

✔️Your passport or national identity card

How long are share codes active?

Share codes expire after 90 days, which is more than enough time for HR managers to carry out the necessary background checks.

Applicants should be aware that other share codes (such as for Right to Rent checks) cannot be used in place of a Right to Work code.

What documents are required for a Right to Work check?

Depending on a person’s employment status, you will be able to use different documents to investigate their ability to work in the UK. Any documents presented to you must be original and owned by the candidate. 

We’ve created a handy chart below to make it easy to understand exactly what is required:

Employee statusDocuments required
If they are a British or Irish citizen:They should show a British or Irish passport OR any document with the person’s name and NI number and a certificate of birth or naturalisation
If they have pre-settled/settled status from EU Settlement Scheme:They should show an online share code (unless they proved their right to work before 1 July 2021)
If they have indefinite leave to enter or remain:They should show an online share code OR a valid passport (it must have a stamp or sticker from the Home Office saying the individual has leave to stay in the UK)
If they have an immigration status document:They should show the immigration status document and any document with their name and NI number
If they have limited leave to remain (eg. students):They should show an online share code OR a valid passport (it must have a stamp or sticker from the Home Office saying the individual has leave to stay in the UK)
If they’re applying to extend their leave:Ask for a Certificate of Application OR use the Home Office Employer Checking Service at least 14 days after the leave extension application was made.

Infographic displaying the different documents required to carry out right to work checks depending on employee status

What software is required for a Right to Work check?

Record keeping is critical to RTW compliance. Employers must save copies of any documents, like passports, or share codes to prove that the RTW check was appropriately conducted.

Given the sensitivity of this information, we recommend business owners download specialist HR software. This can be used to store any copies of confidential documents, like passports, separately and securely to the business’s everyday filing system.

Can I hire someone else to complete the Right to Work check?

Employers can commission a certified Identity Service Provider (IDSP) to complete their digital right to work checks for British and Irish workers.

This is a much quicker and less admin-heavy solution. However, unlike the share code system which is entirely free for employers, the IDSP system costs an estimated £2 to £70 per check.

Whilst not mandatory, the Home Office recommends using a certified IDSP, as it provides assurance that the provider meets certain legal standards.

Be aware that using an IDSP does not exempt you from legal responsibilities. The employer will still remain liable for any civil penalties should the employee be found not to be able to work in the UK.

What are the consequences of not complying with Right to Work checks?

If you are found to have neglected your responsibility as an employer to conduct a Right to Work check, you will receive a penalty notice from HMRC. Depending on the circumstances, the fine can cost up to £20,000.

You might also be sent to jail for two years and pay an unlimited fine if you’re found guilty of employing someone who you had ‘reasonable cause to believe’ did not have the right to work in the UK.

Reputational damage should be considered here. In the past, companies have been publicly named and shamed by Immigration Enforcement, as a warning to others not to employ illegal workers.


Business owners must be careful not to let their eagerness to hire prevent them from carrying out thorough and legitimate Right to Work checks. There are real legal ramifications for failing to comply, including a penalty of up to £20,000 from HMRC.

Less dramatic outcomes will still have a negative impact on your organisation. For instance, lack of preparedness might contribute to delays in the RTW process – compromising your relationship with an employee before it even gets off the ground.

To avoid the chances of that happening, you can use this guide as a reminder of how it all works. Here’s a quick step-by-step run through of how to carry out a RTW check as an employer:

  1. Arrange a meeting to view an applicant’s legal documents. Or, if you are checking remotely, a valid share code
  2. Check that the documents are valid with the applicant present
  3. If the applicant has leave to work in the UK, take and keep copies of their documents and record the date you made the check
Right to Work check FAQs:
  • How long does a Right to Work check take?
    It varies, but a Right to Work check will typically take between one and four weeks. If you are using the Home Office Employer Checking Service on GOV.UK to perform the checks then it should take no more than 28 days.
  • Who is responsible for conducting Right to Work checks?
    Employers are required by law to carry out Right to Work checks. Even if you use an IDSP to check a staff member’s British or Irish citizenship, you will still be accountable if the worker is found to be illegally employed.
  • What is a share code?
    Share codes are alpha-numeric numbers that are used to demonstrate a worker's immigration status. They can be created for zero charge on the government website. Employers should ask the job applicant to provide one during the interview process.
  • Do you need to check existing employees' right to work?
    Contact the Home Office Employer Checking Service on GOV.UK. If the person has leave to work in the UK, the ECS will send you confirmation within five days.
Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

Leave a comment

Leave a reply

We value your comments but kindly requests all posts are on topic, constructive and respectful. Please review our commenting policy.

Back to Top