Expert Advice on Key Things to Improve Before a Mock Audit
Following our full departure from the EU, and with it, the end of free movement, more companies in the UK are applying for sponsor licenses to enable them to recruit people with the skills they need. And as those businesses become reliant on their sponsor license, they will need to ensure that they continue to remain compliant with the Home Office rules. One way by which sponsor license holders are able to ensure they remain compliant and, hence, are able to pass a compliance visit by the Home Office, is to have regular mock audits. In this article, we will explain some of the key things to consider prior to a mock audit on your business premises.
What Is A Mock Audit?
The idea of a mock audit is to simulate what would happen if your business receives a compliance visit by the Home Office. Like a real Home Office compliance audit, a mock audit provides an opportunity to learn about what your business is doing correctly, and areas which need improvement. Unlike a real Home Office compliance audit, you will not have your license suspended, downgraded, or revoked if a problem is found.
Mock audits may be carried out by internal staff or an external third-party, such as an immigration Solicitor. The benefit of using an external third-party is that they tend to be impartial and more accurately reflect how a Home Office compliance officer would behave. The other risk of doing this internally is that if there are gaps or problems identified in systems and/or processes, there may be insufficient expertise in-house to recommend and implement appropriate solutions.
What Should We Improve Before A Mock Audit?
We recommend that any business due to receive a sponsor license mock audit should prepare in the same way as they would for a real audit. This includes identifying areas which may need to be improved in advance and taking any necessary action. We recommend looking at the following areas for potential improvements before your simulated audit:
Get Up To Date With Any SMS And Staff Record Changes
One of the key roles of a sponsor license holder is to keep up to date records of migrant workers. We recommend checking that all of the contact details and other relevant information for your migrant workers are current as of the day of the audit. It is also common for businesses to have a backlog of changes they need to make to the SMS and their internal staff records (i.e. the team managing sponsored workers are aware of changes but records are yet to be updated). The risk of not having records updated is that the person undertaking the audit may find discrepancies – for example, if the address of a migrant worker is incorrect on your records. We recommend that this backlog of changes should always be kept to a minimum, but if you are due to have a mock or real audit, this backlog should be cleared if possible. This may include updating the SMS if a migrant worker has left your organisation, if there is a new key user, or if a migrant worker has a prolonged unauthorised absence.
Make Sure Your HR Files/Records Are Easily Accessible
During your audit, you can expect the auditor to request a number of employee personnel files. Where possible, do what you can in advance to make accessing and providing these records as easy as possible. This may mean improving your filing system or implementing a computerised system which can be accessed from any location. What you want to avoid is the risk of a compliance officer arriving on a site where you have no access or limited access to staff records. It is also important to ensure that your records contain all of the information you are required to retain, including right to work checks, copies of passports, qualifications, professional certifications, attendance records, and recruitment details. If an auditor can quickly be provided with the records they need, and they are clear, logically laid-out, and up to date, this will make their life easier.
Empower Your Key Personnel To Help Your Business Achieve Compliance
Another strategy which we recommend sponsor license holders to employ is improving the knowledge and understanding of the key personnel who will liaise with the auditor. Taking the time to explain the purpose of the audit, their role in ensuring the audit proceeds smoothly, and what the auditor will be looking for will ensure that there is no misunderstanding. We often visit premises where it is clear that onsite personnel are not expecting an audit and don’t know what the process entails. By ensuring that your onsite team are well versed in the process of auditing and assisting the auditor, you can increase your chance of a successful outcome.
In order to achieve this aim, and to ensure a broader understanding of sponsor license compliance across the organisation, businesses can improve their approach by having a detailed and regularly updated HR policy manual which covers this, and provides a basis for employee training. By keeping this up to date with the latest rules and recommendations, this can be relied on as a reference by the whole business. For example, the manual should now explain the recent post-Brexit 2021 Skilled Worker sponsorship rules, including the lower salary threshold and the removal of the need to complete resident labour market tests (RLMT).
Mock audits provide an invaluable resource to ensure that when a real audit happens, your business is prepared. Unfortunately, compliance officer visits by the Home Office often happen unannounced, hence businesses unfamiliar with the audit process run the real risk of problems being found. With a mock audit, while the pressure is on, there are no real negative consequences if problems are discovered, only opportunities to put things right. By putting mock audits at the centre of your compliance strategy, and correcting any issues which are highlighted as a result, you can relax in the knowledge that your business is as prepared as possible when the Home Office comes knocking.