Beware the knock on your door

Maria Fernandes Friday 16th January 2015 04:18 EST

Those who have sponsor licences beware the knock on your door. Unannounced and announced visits are a regular feature of the licencing system. Being caught unawares will not be an excuse if your paperwork is not up to date. There are a few ground rules that you should adhere to.
Establish identity of the person: This may seem an obvious and elementary issue but it is vitally important to ask an officer to produce his/her identity and to take a copy of contact details for any follow up at the start.
Visits: One of the pitfalls that occurs on fairly regular basis is that the officer will proceed to question whoever is available.  This is a dangerous precedent as information provided can be mistaken, wrong or incomplete and can later be used as evidence for action against the employer/sponsor. The Home Office guidance is that the visit should continue regardless of the fact that the key officers (Is the Authorising Officer, Key contact or Level 1 User) are not present.   However even if these officers are not present the only substitutes that can be questioned are  the owner,  a director or someone  involved in the day to day running of the organisation (such as the Manager). This implies that the person available for questioning must be someone senior with a level of understanding of the business and some authority.  Within the business there should be a policy to allow only specific individuals to participate in this process and if so this must be made clear to the officers concerned.  
They should be politely advised to return when the person is available and indeed steps should be taken to facilitate a convenient date for the visit to avoid giving the impression that you are not co-operating with the process.  It is better to state at the outset that there is no competent person than to plod on with the interview and provide inaccurate information. It is vitally important to ensure that contact details of the person are taken and followed with a written record of any action proposed.
Follow Up: Another area which is of concern is when officers ask for further documents to be sent.  Their guidelines surprisingly do not require them to put their requests in writing to prevent   misunderstandings.  If there is a request for further information, it is advisable to send out an email as soon as possible confirming the documents requested and include any deadlines set for this information. If there is a good reason why this cannot be provided within these timescales, reasons should be given and an extension sought.  In this way it cannot later be argued that the employer failed to comply with requests.  In a fairly large number of cases, when information is sent out, there is no acknowledgement of the receipt which is a bad practice and unprofessional. However to prevent any difficulties arising it is advisable to chase and to find an alternative email when there is no response.   Evidence should be retained to prove that information was sent.
Signing documents: At the end of the interview employers are asked to sign the record and often do this without checking its accuracy and often because they are keen to end the matter.   However beware of this. The Home Office have instructed their officers to “insist” on obtaining a signature.  It is advisable either to check the document carefully and sign it or a better option is to state that you will check it and send it off to the officer by post. This takes away the pressure to sign it there and then and gives the employer a real opportunity to establish that it correctly reflects their views.
Copies of reports of visit: Regardless of the outcome of the visit and event when it goes well it is important to have a copy of the report for your own record and a copy of any interview note that was made.

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