More than a third of businesses in the UK don't check whether or not prospective employees have the 'right to work' in the country, according to new research.

Background screening company SterlingBackcheck found that 38% of businesses don't check that vital piece of information, with more than 40% not conducting any background checks on candidates at all.

Rigorous employment checks are mostly carried out by larger firms, the study found, especially when hiring executives, directors and managers. But smaller companies, particularly those with fewer than 100 employees are the least likely to carry out a background check. Only 50% of companies screen their part-time hourly workers and just 28% of employers screen volunteers.

Clare Hart, CEO of SterlingBackcheck, said: “Employers have a duty to prevent illegal working, so it’s their responsibility to conduct document checks and ensure that they only recruit people who have permission to work in the UK.

"The tight labour market makes it tempting for employers to look the other way, but any business that fails to carry out these checks correctly risks a £20,000 civil penalty for each illegal workers, as well as damage to their brand and reputation. That's a high price to pay."