READING Borough Council’s Licensing Team is urging businesses to ensure they carry out all necessary employment checks for current or prospective employees, to satisfy themselves that they are entitled to work in the UK.
It follows the revocation of the premises licence for Himalayan Momo House, 28 Farnham Drive, Caversham, by the Council’s Licensing Sub Committee earlier this week, for a string of immigration offences and licensing breaches.
Since April 2017, Reading’s Licensing Authority has visited 32 premises, alongside partners in Immigration Enforcement and Thames Valley Police. Sixteen of those premises (50%) visited uncovered a total of 22 illegal workers, and a serious lack of compliance with licensing and food safety legislation.
The employment of illegal workers within licensed premises is regarded as one of the most serious offences under the Licensing Act 2003. Since the late 90’s all employers have a legal obligation, under various immigration legislation, to check that the people they employ are legally entitled to reside and work in the UK.
In the 16 cases identified since April, Council licensing officers found instances of:
- right to work checks not being carried out
- illegal workers often being paid far below the national minimum wage
- payments being made ‘cash in hand’ – avoiding national insurance and tax contributions
- the continued employment of illegal workers in often poor living conditions
The use of licensed premises for such activity is deemed so serious as to warrant a serious consideration for the revocation of the employer’s premises licence, even in the first instance.
As a result of the checks, the licensing team, in conjunction with partners, have already initiated review proceedings against five of the premises identified as employing illegal workers. The first of these hearings related to Himalayan Momo House in Caversham on October 24th.
Further review proceedings have been initiated against China Palace, 43-45 Oxford Road; Best Foods, 129 Oxford Road; Premier Store, 69 Whitley Street and Supersave at 234 Northumberland Avenue. These will be determined by the Licensing Sub Committee in the coming weeks and months, with further hearings expected to follow.
Councillor Sarah Hacker, Lead Member with responsibility for Licensing, said:
“These are serious criminal offences being committed by the licence holders, not least because they are exploiting vulnerable people who are often paid far below the minimum wage.
“The Council urges all licence holders in Reading to review the right to work documents of all of their staff to ensure that they are entitled to work. The licensing authority takes the matter extremely seriously and will not hesitate to take action against licence holders who employ and exploit illegal workers, breach licensing and food safety legislation and continue to put members of the public at risk.
“Action has already been initiated in respect of five premises, and there is likely to be further action taken against others in the coming weeks and months.”