Essential credentials

Employers face a hefty fine if a teacher is found to be working illegally. Anat Arkin reports.

As schools approach the peak recruitment per-iod, those who employ teachers should be aware they could face criminal charges if they hire staff who have no right to work in the UK. Under section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, it is an offence to employ anyone other than a British citizen, a Commonwealth citizen with the right of abode in the UK, or a national of any country in the European Economic Area - unless that person has permission to live and work in the UK.

Since January this year, magistrates have been able to impose fines of up to Pounds 5,000 for this offence. But employers who check and keep a copy of one of the documents specified in the legislation before employing a person will have a defence, even if it turns out the person is working without permission. These documents include a payslip or P45 showing the person's national insurance number, or a passport stating that the holder has the right of abode in the UK.

Local authorities are the employers of school staff except in grant-maintained or voluntary-aided schools, where the governors are the employers. They were not required to make checks on people who started work for them before 27 January 1997. But they would be well advised to look at the documents of all job applicants employed since then. Employers who carry out checks only on people whose appearance or accent suggests they are not British could end up paying compensation under the 1976 Race Relations Act.

The Home Office advises employers to treat all job applicants equally and not to ask people "who look or sound foreign" for passports if they ask others only for a national insurance number. If an applicant cannot produce a national insurance number, the employer must ask for a passport, birth certificate, naturalisation certificate or other document.

The 1996 act applies to all employees, full or part-time, permanent or temporary. But school employers are not liable for people employed by contractors. Nor are they liable for consultants, supply teachers and self-employed people. But if a school uses an agency to find staff it subsequently employs, the governing body or LEA will be liable.

The act allows Commonwealth citizens aged 17-27 to come to the UK for up to two years as working holidaymakers - provided they take only work that is "incidental" to their holidays. In practice this means they can take part-time or casual work. But employers must check that the passports of young Commonwealth citizens contain a stamp showing this entitlement.

For advice on which documents are sufficient, call 0181 649 7878.

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