In the past it was largely the candidate that suffered when someone was found to be working illegally. Increasingly penalties now fall to the employer and, unfortunately, they are becoming ever more severe.
Until 1997 if a candidate was employed illegally, then they could be deported and would suffer a ‘black mark’ on their immigration history, but the employer faced no legal liability for having employed them.
In 1997 it became a criminal offence to employ someone in breach of their visa conditions. Penalties include a potential fine of £5000.
The law has now changed again. If a candidate is employed in breach of their visa conditions they are not be subject to deportation proceedings. Instead, they will be treated as an illegal entrant. While deportation sounds severe, it is a procedure against which one can appeal. Illegal entrants can be simply walked off site and onto a plane. The business discontinuity costs of this could be very severe
As an agency, your contract with your clients will probably leave you with liabilities in the above circumstances.
The new White paper on regulation of the private recruitment industry contains clauses which, if implemented, would force you to establish a person’s right to work in the UK before sending their CV to a client (if the person did not have a right to work in the UK, this would need to be stated on the CV)