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UK updates guidelines for Right to Work digital identity checks

Biometrics best for background checks says US study
UK updates guidelines for Right to Work digital identity checks

The UK government has updated guidelines for employers for Right to Work digital identity checks, clarifying details on using digital identity service providers (IDSPs).

Since April 2022, IDSPs have been allowed to offer additional checks aside from the standard checks for passports and some ID cards held by British and Irish workers. One of the main difficulties of this arrangement, however, was that employers had no protection, explains Shara Pledger, senior associate at Pinsent Masons law firm.

The new guidelines, issued last Friday, reiterated that employers can encounter risks if using IDSPs for other documents.

“The most recent Home Office guidance reiterates earlier clarification that other than where IDSPs are used expressly for right-to-work checks of British or Irish citizens with a valid passport or Irish passport card, it is not possible to establish a statutory excuse against liability for a civil penalty if the manual document-based check, or online service right to work check, is performed by an IDSP,” says Pledger.

Right to Work is part of an identity check program under the Digital Identity and Attributes Trust Framework (DIATF) which also includes Right to Rent and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) initiatives. Employers have been using digital identity service providers (IDSPs) for pre-employment checks and to help minimize fraud.

The guidelines also bring increased penalties for hiring illegal workers and introduce additional new steps when checking different worker categories, including when hiring sponsored workers for so-called “supplementary work.”

Biometric data best for background checks

Background check services used by employers and landlords are full of inaccuracies and mistakes and may unfairly limit access to employment and housing, a new study has shown. Its authors say that the best solution may be using biometric data.

The study was authored by researchers from the University of Maryland and Rutgers University and published in the Criminology journal in February.

The researchers enrolled 101 study participants in New Jersey to examine the accuracy of both commercial and public-use background check services. The researchers ordered background checks from both unregulated and regulated providers, such as “people search” websites. They then compared the data to official records linked to the study participant’s names and fingerprints.

The results showed that the vast majority of the study participants, about 90 percent had at least one false-negative error, meaning that criminal records or case depositions were not recorded or incomplete. More than half of the study participants had at least one false positive error with the background check resulting in incorrect data, explains University of Maryland Assistant Professor Robert Stewart.

“There’s a common, taken-for-granted assumption that background checks are an accurate reflection of a person’s criminal record, but our findings show that’s not necessarily the case,” says Stewart. “My co-author and I found that there are lots of inaccuracies and mistakes in background checks caused, in part, by imperfect data aggregation techniques that rely on names and birth dates rather than unique identifiers like fingerprints.”

Alongside Associate Professor Sarah Lageson of Rutgers University, Stewart examined the reasons behind such a large number of mistakes in commercial background check services. Among them were mismatched, incorrect and incomplete criminal records but also misspelled names, wrong birth dates or confused aliases.

Stewart says that the results could violate fairness in access to employment and housing, noting that the industry may be ripe for reform.

“It may be better for background checks to be done through the state, or the FBI, or through other ways that use biometric data,” he says. “It’s important for people to realize that there’s a lot at stake.”

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