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The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003

It’s a long title, but these Regulations are important for Limited Company Contractors (or Personal Service Companies) and agency temps.

These regulations were introduced in April 2004 (2005 in Northern Ireland) and were updated in 2010 and agin in 2016. They provide a framework of minimum standards that govern the conduct of the private recruitment industry in the UK (and supplement the 1973 Employment Agencies Act 1973). The Government is currently consulting on the Regulations again in 2013 and says it will create a new framework reducing “some of the burdens on business but continue to protect people who are looking for work” – we will update this article when more details are known, but it is unlikely that the Contractors existing Opt-Out of the Regulations (see below) will be removed.

Here we look at what they mean and why they are important (for details of the separate Agency Workers Regulations see our Guide).

They essentially provide protection for what is known as ‘work-seekers’ – those looking for either temporary or permanent employment. Any breach of the regulations is a criminal offence.

They cover Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses which provide temporary and permanent staff to end-hiring companies (but entertainment and modelling agencies / businesses have their own separate rules; local councils, certain educational institutions, trade unions, certain professional members bodies, charities and services provided for ex-members of HM forces or for people released from prisons and other institutions are not covered by these Regulations).

Employment Agencies are defined as:

Companies that find permanent work for work-seekers who are employed and paid directly by the employer – they have permanent employment with the end company (or a fixed term PAYE contract).

Employment Businesses are defined as:

Companies that provide temps to organisations. The Employment business engages a work-seeker under a contract with them, and the temp then works under the supervision of someone else at a hiring organisation. Temps are paid by the employment business not the company they are supplied to. See our new Guide to Can an Agency worker ever become permanent here.

Under the Regulations an Employment Agency or Business cannot:

  • Charge a fee to a work-seeker to find them work. They can charge for non-work finding services like CV writing or transport to jobs but the details of these services must be provided in a separate document and be given to the work-seeker before providing these services.

  • Make a work-seeker use these additional (charged-for) services as a condition of finding them work – including requiring the work-seeker to take training courses, that they need to pay for, to access work.

  • Prevent someone from working somewhere else or ending their employment with the agency/business or working directly with another person; or subject a work-seeker to a ‘detriment’ if they decide to take up work with someone else (although they can ask you to give notice to stop working with them).

  • Withhold payments or wages due to temporary work-seekers (even if they haven’t been paid by the end hiring organisation or have no timesheet authorised by the hirer; this does not apply to employment agencies who are not responsible for paying a work-seeker after they’ve been introduced to the permanent hirer).

  • Supply a temporary worker to replace someone taking part in industrial action at the hiring company.

  • Charge for a uniform without telling the worker in advance.

  • Make unlawful deductions from pay.

An Employment Business must make sure temporary workers are:

  • Paid for all the work they do (even if they have not received payment from the end-hirer; even if the temp hasn’t got a timesheet authorised by the hirer; or the worker then leaves their employment.

  • Paid holidays.

  • Not forced to work longer than 48 hours per week.

  • Paid at least the national minimum wage.

  • Protected under health and safety laws.

  • Given written terms of employment before they start to find work for them

An Employment Business can delay payment to a work seeker while it makes reasonable enquiries to verify the hours the temp has worked – but DTI guidance says this delay should only be for a few days.

These written terms and conditions of employment should cover:

  • The type of work they will find or seek for the work-seeker.

  • If the work-seekers will be employed under a contract of service (employment with the Employment Business); an apprenticeship; or on a contract for service (LCC/PSC’s) – and what terms will apply.

  • The length of notice the work-seekers needs to give and is entitled to get for assignments.

  • The minimum rate of pay you expect to get for the work-seeker; and how often and when the work-seeker will be paid.

  • The amount of holiday and holiday pay details. If the work-seeker is a limited company and are not opted out of the Regulations (see below) you must detail when they may be entitled to, and be paid for, time off.

(Since 2010, Employment Agencies supplying permanent workers do not legally need to agree terms with a work-seeker before seeking work for them, or agree terms with Clients before introducing them to the work-seeker)

The Employment Agency or Employment Business must also:

  • Carry out suitability checks prior to employment for all ‘temporary’ work-seekers.

  • Carry out suitability checks on Permanent work-seekers when the work that is to be done is with ‘vulnerable’ people. Vulnerable people are persons under 18 or those who by reason of their age, infirmity or other circumstances is in need of care.

  • Advertise any vacancy/position with full details and whether it is a temporary or permanent position.

  • Provide terms and conditions to companies hiring temps – detailing the fees they need to pay and what procedures they have in place for unsatisfactory workers (how and when a hirer should tell them a worker is unsatisfactory; and what they will do about it – terminate the workers assignment, try to solve the problem or supply a different worker).

If you believe your Agency is charging you inappropriate fees you can make a complaint to the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS) here.

How do the Regulations affect Limited Company Contractors?

Limited Company Contractors (or Personal Service Companies) can choose to opt-out of all these Regulations – however the LCC must opt-out, and the end hirer must be told this, before the assignment starts (otherwise the Opt-out will be invalid).

LCC’s who decide to opt-out can decide to opt-into the rules again, but only when they’ve finished working for the hirer they’ve opted-out with. However, LCC’s cannot opt-out if they’re going to be working with ‘vulnerable’ people (see above).

Employment Businesses must not make opting-out a condition of providing work-finding services for the LCC.

Advantages & disadvantages of opting-out

  • If you opt-out then there may be delays in payment (as the Employment Business can then wait to be paid by the end hirer or not pay you if they don’t have a signed timesheet).

  • Regulation 10 limits the ability of an agency to validly restrict a work-seeker making direct arrangements for future services with the end-client/hirer. So if you opt-out this does not apply and it is common then to have a 6 or 12 month ‘restriction’ clauses (that stop you working directly with the client during this time). Where the regulations apply (you have not opted-out) the maximum effective period during which a restriction can prevent direct dealings with an end-client will be the longer of 14 weeks or 18 weeks (see explanation below).

  • You cannot choose which bits to opt-out of – you have to opt-out of all the Regulations or none.

  • Would end-hirers prefer freelancers who have opted out? Most Employment Businesses generally prefer limited company freelancers to opt-out as it is less administrative burden on them.

  • As with the Agency Workers Regulations, these Regulations were designed to apply to workers who are controlled by the client/end-hirer – the vast majority of contractors may not require the protection which the Regulations bring as they do not wish to be ‘controlled’ for employment status/IR35 reasons.

  • There have been many discussions in various forums about whether opting out makes a LCC more IR35 negative, positive or neutral – with differing opinions about ‘accepting’ control, making effective business decisions and so on – so the decision should only be made by an LCC on an informed and individual basis.

Fees to Hiring Companies

An Employment Business (supplying temps) can charge “reasonable” transfer fees to end-hirers:

  • When they’ve supplied a temporary worker who is then taken on permanently by the hirer (temp-to-perm fees).

  • If the hirer changes agency but wants to keep the same temporary worker, meaning the worker has to change agency (temp-to-temp fees).

  • If the hirer introduces a temporary worker to another company that wants to temporarily offer them work (temp-to-third-party fees).

Temp-to-perm fees and temp-to-temp fees

  • These can be charged as long as the hirer has first had the option to have the worker supplied by the Business for a set period of hire. After this the worker can transfer without a fee. There is no time limit for the extended period of hire. The worker must be provided for all of the set period for hire, unless the Employment Business is prevented from doing this for reasons that aren’t their own fault.

  • These can only be charged when the ‘transfer’ takes place within either 14 weeks of the start of the first assignment with the hirer or 8 weeks of the end of any assignment (whichever is the later date). Otherwise the end-hirer does not need to pay a transfer fee. If the worker has been on more than one assignment with a break of more than 42 days between assignment, the 14 week period starts again.

Other information:

In 2015, the Government consulted on proposed changes to the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations, including banning agencies from recruiting work-seekers solely from other EEA countries, without advertising the relevant vacancies in Great Britian. From 8th May 2016 the legislation is amended to:

  • ban agencies recruiting solely from overseas EEA countries. Agencies must now advertise the relevant vacancies in English in Great Britain at the same time as advertising in the EEA (or advertising in English in Great Britain in the 28 day period before).

  • Regulation 17 is removed so that employment busineses will no longer be required to obtain agreement to terms with hirers.

If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.

Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.

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