Data obtained by Warrington-based employment services provider Parasol under the Freedom of Information Act shows that 1,822 civil penalty notices were issued to UK-based employers between January and December 2013.

The number of fines issued represents a 50% increase on the previous 12 months, during which 1,216 penalties were imposed. The gross value of penalties issued – £14,107,750 – was up 31% on the £10,775,500 recouped by the Home Office in 2012.

Parasol, which carries out right-to-work checks on thousands of workers every year, described the figures as a wake-up call for employers. Managing director Derek Kelly said: “These findings illustrate the heightened level of scrutiny that employers are now under when it comes to illegal working.

“More than ever, it’s vital that companies carry out thorough checks and follow the correct procedures when hiring foreign nationals.

“With the maximum fine for employing an illegal worker due to double from £10,000 to £20,000 under the Immigration Bill, it seems likely that the cost to UK PLC will rise again in the coming years.”

Existing measures to tackle illegal working were introduced by the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and came into effect for those employed on, or after, 29th February 2008.

Under the current legislation, employers can face a civil penalty of up to £10,000 for every illegal worker found. Proposals to “strengthen and simplify” the civil penalty scheme were laid out in a public consultation in summer 2013.

In addition to increasing the maximum civil penalty from £10,000 to £20,000, the proposed Immigration Bill would alter both the nature of the document checks that employers must conduct, and the way in which fines are calculated. The Bill is currently making its way through Parliament.

Responding to Parasol’s information request, Shelley Gould of the Home Office’s civil penalty compliance team said: “The legislative changes to civil penalties are part of a wider package of reform to the way in which we prevent illegal working.

“This includes significantly increased operational enforcement activity, reform of the way in which we administer civil penalties, and reform of the way in which we recover unpaid penalties administratively to ensure that there are real and enforced consequences for employers who repeatedly exploit illegal workers.”