Event roundup: Screening in the gig economy

Event roundup: Screening in the gig economy

In our most recent webinar, we heard from experts in digital screening and the gig economy, talking about the challenges that come with a growing contingent workforce, as well as the next steps in digital ID and right to work checks. Presenting were:

Laura Dias, governance lead and senior policy advisor at the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS);

Professor Jon Hall, advisory board member of the Better Hiring Institute;

And Keith Rosser, Home Office ECHO committee member, Chair of the BHI and director of Reed Screening.

What is the gig economy?

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has formulated a definition of the gig economy:

“The gig economy involves exchange of labour for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching between providers and customers, on a short-term and payment by task basis.”

The gig economy has tripled in size over the last five years, accounting for 12% of the UK’s employment market.

Its growth is being driven by a number of factors including the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cost of living crisis motivating more people to take on second roles or other types of flexible work.

With its growth, the gig economy has also made way for complex supply chains that pose threats and issues for both employees and employers. Some issues that have hit the news recently include umbrella companies salary skimming their contractors, supply chain issues causing problems for organisations, particularly in the NHS, and even some people finding themselves trapped in modern slavery via complex supply chains.

Who is responsible for screening?

With the flexibility of gig work comes additional complexities. For example, if an employee is working through an umbrella agency, who is responsible for screening and carrying out right to work checks? Some employers may find that recruitment agencies they engage are using umbrella company workers, and what they thought was a simple supply chain actually has two or three layers of other agency suppliers.

Under Home Office rules, it must be the employer who carries out and maintains records of right to work screening, but the increased complexity of supply chains, particularly in the gig economy, can mean that identifying who the employer is out of a multi-layered arrangement of recruitment agencies and umbrella companies is very challenging.

This also means that it’s important for those engaging the services of contingent workers via agencies or umbrella companies to audit them to ensure that appropriate screening is being carried out, in order to mitigate risk to their own business.

The broader flexible work and gig economy landscape includes workers of various classifications, including freelancers, limited company workers, agency contractors, interns, temps – identifying who is responsible for their screening and legal compliance is challenging but something that employers should be investigating and addressing within their own contingent workforce now.

Suffice to say, we’re currently working with the Home Office on an employment model matrix and identifying who is responsible for conducting right to work checks within that matrix in order to attain better clarity from UK government on how it should work.

Digital Identity in the gig economy

Laura Dias, governance lead within the digital identity team and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, described the under-bonnet work that has gone into the Digital ID scheme.

What is digital ID?

Earlier this year, the Home Office and DBS announced changes to the right to work/right to rent and DBS identity guidance to enable organisations to carry out these checks remotely in light of the pressures presented by COVID-19. During COVID, the Home Office and DBS allowed for identity checks to be conducted remotely via video call, with candidates showing their passports or other identity documents over the screen.

However, with the adjusted measures coming to an end, the Home Office and DBS introduced the use of digital ID as a permanent way of enabling employers and employees to work together and on-board remotely.

For gig workers, digital ID has great future potential, as it could be utilised to enable workers using digital platforms to validate their identities quickly and easily, and for employers to know who they are employing, especially if those people are working remotely.

Ensuring trustworthiness

With jobs being filled through digital platforms, digital recruitment processes are in demand. However, there are increased risks with hiring quickly through agencies and platforms, so in order to make this work, it was important that the digital identities provided could be verified and the digital identity providers working within this new market could be trusted by employers and employees alike.

Therefore, the digital identity team worked with the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) who are responsible for accrediting certification bodies in the UK, to set up a scheme by which bodies could be accredited against the Trust Framework, the right to work/right to rent or DBS scheme, and then go on to certify ID service providers (IDSPs) to verify identity. Certified IDSPs are therefore able to conduct standard and enhanced disclosure checks, as well as right to work and right to rent checks to the required confidence levels.

The Trust Framework sets out the government's vision for rules governing the future use of digital identities. Its standards and rules are seen as best practice, and it draws upon international standards, and industry standards to define what behaviours organisations should adhere to.

Monitoring the scheme

As the scheme is being adopted by increasing numbers of employers, a virtual parliamentary briefing was held, in which 65 employers representing around one million employees between them, delivered feedback on their experiences with the digital ID and right to work scheme. What was found overall was that the scheme is a really positive step towards digital hiring, but it currently lacks some desirable characteristics from an employer’s perspective.

Three main concerns were raised:

  • that recruitment costs were increasing as a result of the recent changes;
  • that the existing guidance was in some places confusing and risked employer noncompliance through no fault of their own;
  • and that there was potentially a new digital divide opening up, as work seekers without a valid UK or Irish passport were unable to access the Digital ID services, and this placed them at a disadvantage.

The findings from this meeting are being compiled into a briefing paper for ministers and policymakers.

Insights from our attendees

We took the opportunity to get a gauge on the experiences and opinions of our attendees.

Are there more challenges screening the contingent workforce than permanent?

Yes - 80%

No - 0%

Don't know - 19%

Do you see the value that digital identity could bring to digitising employment?

Yes - 90%

No - 0%

Don't know - 9%

How positive are you about the new digital right to work scheme?

Very - 55%

Partially - 45%

Not really - 0%

The greater majority of our attendees found that there were more challenges with screening gig economy workers than permanent. On the whole, our attendees were feeling at least partially positive about the new digital right to work scheme, and almost all could see the value that digital identity could bring to digitising employment.

Questions from our attendees

As usual our attendees had a raft of questions for our presenters. We’ve included the most popular questions and answers below:

How do you see digital identity evolving going forward and how can its usage help improve transparency in complex supply chains? What do you see as the next steps for digital identity?

Laura - our initial reflections from working at the Home Office and with DBS so far is that there's certainly a need go even further. And so we're very willing and open to work with Home Office colleagues to understand where our work and digital identity can help improve the process. I know the gig economy is slightly different in terms of employers - you don't necessarily always directly contract with employee and of course how that develops is within the Home Office policy decision realms. But from a DCMS side, we're always willing to work with Home Office colleagues and where the policy goes.

And I think more widely and we're really excited that we have our certification bodies, who are up and ready to certify organisations against the right to work schemes and against the trust framework. And there's nothing stopping those certification bodies in the future being able to certify against other schemes or extensions to schemes. We're really interested and continue to engage with the certified IDSPs to understand what they're seeing in the market, where they see the problems, where they think that they can develop innovative solutions to help support that, and where they need government policy to be moving at a greater speed to allow them to work on these kind of innovative solutions.

So on the DCMS side we're really energized by the work so far and really keen to understand where we can work with the Home Office and other departments across government to support with trying to introduce digital identity into different areas.

With so many gig workers using platform work as a second income, is there a likelihood that those in employment without a current in date passport will be put off undertaking platform work?

Keith - I think that's a really good question. It absolutely is a concern, as Jon highlighted, and it came out very clearly at the parliamentary briefing that there is a real concern that those without in-date passports will be put off from engaging in things like platform work or, more broadly, online remote type work and that's an area we are campaigning on. It's something we want to and are already are working with the Home Office on to provide them data to support this issue. But it is a concern for certain workers without in date passports etcetera that they might in our new economy be put off from applying for certain jobs particularly online and digital jobs. We need to change that.

Referencing is more challenging for gig workers. How do we how do we best overcome this?

Keith - I think that's absolutely right. For contingent workers in general, referencing can be more challenging because they have more employment positions on their CV. Those employment positions are often more short term. Quite often you find that employers don't necessarily even recall certain workers working for them as they may have only worked for a matter of days. There are a number of digital solutions being developed at the moment. Reed are piloting one called Digital Careers, which uses open banking data to confirm periods of employment by looking at the last and first pay dates on people's bank records. That's a way of basically validating employment histories. Will it completely take over referencing? Well, that depends on the sector. Schools and hospitals will still need safeguarding references, but it could easily overtake the CV or employment records because it automatically validates when people were paid by which employer. So I do think we'll move away from this and I think there's a role to play with DCMS and government and digital identity technology such as digital careers and other items to continue to digitise the employment journey and make particularly the screening of contingent workers and gig workers far easier than it is now. So watch this space.

What is the best way to screen a gig worker properly?

Keith - Clearly I'm biased - I'd say use Reed Screening. But beyond that, make sure you've got a policy in place that covers all workers, not just permanent workers. Make sure you understand how every worker that you use should be vetted if they are going through a recruitment agency. You can insist the recruitment agency does that vetting, but make sure that you are checking and auditing that it is being done. Where your supply chain is more complex and you have maybe multiple agencies or other organisations, like umbrella companies, it's really important you make sure that screening is being done on your behalf. We see more and more models where large employers are asking screening companies like Reed screening to do all of the vetting for the supply chain, and the cost is covered by the supply chain and that way those companies know the vetting is consistently done by one organisation, whether the worker is going through a recruitment agency and umbrella company or anybody else.

So the lots of things think about there. Clearly there are still some policy items that need resolving like the right to work checks on different employment models and different types of workers. But that is all being worked on. So that will continue to move across next year.