Tony Machin, CEO of TrustID, discusses how construction firms can help their subcontractors detect illegal workers and protect their reputations.

Now that the deadline for workers to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme has officially passed, UK construction firms have been warned to expect a rise in the number of illegal documents being presented as evidence of right to work in the UK.

Most large construction firms rely on subcontractors and, whilst they are not directly responsible for their Right to Work (RtW) checks, that doesn’t mean they have no cause for concern. Though constructors may not shoulder the financial burden of penalties, they might well suffer reputational damage and disruption if they are found to have illegal workers employed on their projects. In a competitive environment, your reputation can make or break a deal – especially as developers are becoming increasingly concerned about the ESG credentials of suppliers. For sensitive projects – such as public sector buildings – there is an even greater need to demonstrate compliance with illegal working checks.

To mitigate the threat to their reputation, main contractors must therefore ensure that all staff accessing a site, including subcontractors, are robustly checked. However, monitoring this can be particularly challenging for project managers, if they are dealing with hundreds of staff at any one time or have a high turnover rate. Project managers also often need to get people on site quickly, and lengthy checks can cause delays. Processing RtW checks correctly can also be resource- and skills-intensive – and some subcontractors may be unwilling to shoulder the costs.

Main contractors therefore need to be able to recommend a fast, reliable, and affordable way to support their subcontractors’ RtW checks.

How to solve the problem

UK construction specialists are increasingly keen to promote and support the highest levels of compliance among their supply chain and network of subcontractors. They recognise the risk that illegal working presents to both their business and to their supply chain, including the threat of modern slavery, as well as potential damage to their brand and reputation, which could exclude them from future opportunities, particularly in the public sector.

One such way to drive compliance is by promoting the use of digital identity checks, and forward-thinking contractors are increasingly encouraging their strategic partners to deploy a reputable identity checking service. Such services support fast, compliant, straightforward Right to Work checks, confirm the authenticity of identity documents and build a higher level of protection against illegal working. A main contractor can then request to see proof of checks as sub-contracted workers arrive on site.

What is the real risk?

At TrustID, we keep a record of the number of fake documents submitted to our identity checking service. When we recently assessed the digital RtW checks made by one construction firm’s supply chain partners, we found that 11% of submissions would not have been accepted as evidence in a Home Office audit. Examples included submissions with ineligible or incomplete documentation, and even one fake British passport.

At another major construction project, to refurbish a London shopping centre, all subcontractors were required to deploy TrustID digital identity checks to gain access to the site. In one year, we flagged 15 fake documents in the supply chain, which could have led to civil penalties of up to £300,000. The percentages of different document types identified almost mirrored the overall picture in construction (the most common being passport and ID cards) – adding supporting evidence to the effectiveness of the checks.

How to choose a digital RtW service

Should your business promote digital RtW checks?

Given the ongoing risk of identity fraud and potential tough penalties, there is a clear need for constructors to protect their sites from illegal workers, whether they are directly employed or operating through subcontractors.

As digital checks are cost effective and quick to complete, they overcome the main objections that subcontractors may have to performing enhanced identity checks on staff. Indeed, many subcontractors introduce digital ID checks to meet compliance requirements for one project, then continue to run them voluntarily as they see the benefits.

Because digital identity checks are proven to be reliable, they bring valued peace of mind. The answer is clear: if you want to protect your construction firm against the reputational loss, fraud risk, potential disruption to your site and significant fines that illegal documents can cause, digital identity and Right to Work checks are the foundation.

Learn more about TrustID digital RtW check for the construction industry