Law-breaking business owners’ crimes are being kept a secret if they pay up, The Argus can reveal.
Firms employing illegal workers have their names and details withheld from the public if they pay a Home Office fine within a specified period.
Government officials say the policy helps “drive compliance” and protects the companies’ “commercial interests”.
However, Sussex politicians have slammed the practice and called on the offending businesses to be “named and shamed”.
An Argus Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed 121 businesses in Sussex have been fined for employing illegal workers since the start of 2011.
However, the Home Office released the names and details of just 39 – less than a third of the total.
The government department told The Argus that illegal working often goes hand in hand with abusive and exploitative behaviour by rouge employees, the mistreatment of migrant workers and tax evasion.
However, they also refused to reveal the details of the offences committed by the firms as it would cost too much to access the files.
The highest fine which has been revealed was handed to China China Restaurant in Preston Street, Brighton. On September 17, 2012 the business owner was ordered to pay £60,000.
The restaurant has been raided three times by immigration officers in a five year period – in October 2008, April 2009 and October 2013. However, we only know about their law breaking because they did not pay their fine within a 28 day time limit as set by the Home Office.
The joint second highest fines made public were handed to Masala Gate, St Pancras, Chichester, in February 2013 and Viceroy Restuarant, Lewes Road, Polegate, in May 2013. Both venues were given a £26,250 bill.
Masala Gate was also handed a £25,000 fine the year before – which bosses again failed to pay within the specified time period.
Other businesses hit with a £25,000 fine include Urdu Blue of Broadwater, Broadwater Street, in Worthing, in March 2012, and Zaman, of Warwick Street, Worthing, in September 2013.
Cardamom Bay, in Queensway, Bognor, was another restaurant caught twice with illegal workers.
Its first fine was for £8,750 in February 2011 and the second for £10,000 in January 2013.
However, we will never know the details of the other 82 law breaking businesses.
The Home Office, in a statement, explained their policy of withholding the details of the firms which pay their fine within the set 28 days.
It said: “The Home Office’s policy is to drive compliance and, in accordance with our policy aims, it is both appropriate and proportionate to disclose business details where an employer has failed to comply.
“This may be because either the business has not paid or made arrangements to pay the penalty within 28 days of exhausting all appeal rights.
“However, we have decided not to disclose details of the remaining 82 businesses that have paid or are paying their penalties.”
The statement goes on to state that section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information (FOI) act allows them to withhold the information.
Under the FOI act, the clause allows the withholding of information where it “would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any persons”.
The statement continues: “If we were to disclose details of those employers who have paid or are paying their penalties it is considered that the release of this information could prejudice the commercial interests of the businesses concerned. Disclosure of the details of these companies is likely to prejudice their reputations, and consequently their commercial interests, as customers may choose to trade with competitors they consider to be more ethical.”
To be able to apply the section 43 exemption, the Home Office must apply a public interest test as to whether to reveal the business names. It concluded that protecting business interests outweighed the right for the public to know which firms were playing by the rules.
The statement added: “There may be a public interest in disclosing information about businesses which have incurred penalties for employing illegal workers, so that the public is able to see that such businesses are dealt with robustly and fairly.
“The knowledge that businesses’ details will be released if they do not pay their penalty encourages businesses to comply and make payments in a timely manner.
“There would be a loss of trust and the policy would be less effective if the Home Office were to release these details.
“This would adversely affect the Home Office’s effective collection of penalties, leading to a greater need for enforcement action which is clearly not in the public interest.”
The revelation has caused anger among Sussex politicians, with some calling on the Home Office to “name and shame” all those who have been caught hiring illegal workers.
Commenting on the six Brighton and Hove offenders, Caroline Lucas Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “I’m immensely proud of the many employers in the city who subscribe to the Living Wage Campaign.
“They show that, even when times are tough, it’s possible to tackle inequality while maintaining competitiveness.
“Those businesses reflect values that have become synonymous with our city – that fierce sense of fairness, of working for the common good: that’s Brighton.”
She added: “I’m aware of the situation and have been in contact with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs calling for all businesses that knowingly flout these laws to be publicly named and shamed.
“Companies which exploit their staff have no business here.”
Warren Morgan, Brighton and Hove City Council Labour group leader, said it was “utterly wrong” for the government to let offending companies remain anonymous.
Also agreeing that they should be “named and shamed” he said: “That would mean customers can choose not to do business with firms that don’t behave ethically, and businesses that do play by the rules are not competing with those who don’t and who abuse their staff and the system.”
Mike Weatherley, Conservative MP for Hove, said the Home Office should release as much information as possible when called upon.
However, he added: “I do accept that there are occasions when a business can unintentionally fall foul of the rules, in which case adverse publicity might be a little unfair.”
Simon Kirby, Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, described the actions of offending businesses as “unacceptable” and said he was “pleased” the government was taking action.
The Home Office told The Argus they were “committed” to tackling the problem of illegal workers.
Earlier this year the maximum civil penalty fine amount was raised to £20,000 for each illegal worker. They have also increased immigration enforcement operations and said they are working closely with the police, local authorities, the Health and Safety Executive and HMRC to tackle rouge employers who exploit illegal workers.
Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said: “We will take robust action against rogue businesses who employ illegal workers and seek to evade tax and minimum wage laws. “Illegal working is not victimless. It undercuts honest employers, defrauds the taxpayer and cheats legitimate job hunters out of employment opportunities.”
Companies fined for employing illegal workers in three years
Cardamom Bay, Queensway, Bognor: £8,750
Delhi Spice, George Street, Brighton: £10,000
India Gate, Mill Lane, Arundel: £20,000
New Tandoori Nights, Sea Lane, Rustington: £10,000
Phoenix House, Surrey Street, Littlehampton: £5,000
The Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant, Sackville Road, Bexhill: £15,000
China China Restaurant, Preston Street, Brighton: £60,000
Curry Master, Green Street, Eastbourne: £10,000
Masala Gate, St Pancras, Chichester: £25,000
Mr. Hau’s of Eastbourne, Terminus Road, Eastbourne: £5,000
Oriental Express, Terminus Road, Eastbourne: £5,000
Royal Gurkha Restaurant, Aldwick Road, Bognor: £20,000
Samins, Middle Road, Shoreham: £10,000
Tandoori Nights Restaurant, Sea Lane, Rustington: £8,750
Tulsi Tandoori, Queens Parade, Hove: £5,000
Urdu Blue of Broadwater, Broadwater Street, Worthing: £25,000
Cardamon Bay Indian Restaurant, Queensway, Bognor: £10,000
Cinnamon Spice, Kings Road, St Leonards: £5,000
Greco Greek Restaurant, Kings Road, Brighton: £10,000
India Gate, Bognor Road, Chichester: £20,000
Lees Garden, Lewes Road, Brighton: £15,000
Ling Ling Chinese Takeaway, Fishersgate Terrace, Portslade: £10,000
Mahaan Restaurant, Montague Street, Worthing: £7,500
Masala Gate, St Pancras, Chichester: £26,250
Mascara Restaurant, Western Road, Brighton: £10,000
Memosh, Montague Street, Worthing: £5,000
Moon Of India, Sutton Park Road, Seaford: £2,500
Royal Jaipur Restaurant, Brighton Road, Worthing: £10,000
Shahjahan Indian Cuisine, High Street, Seaford: £5,000
Spice Garden, Church Street, Eastbourne: £10,000
Spice Merchant, West Street, Lewes: £15,000
The Viceroy Restaurant, Grand Parade, Lewes Road: £26,250
Tiffin Express, Station Street, Eastbourne: £5,000
Zaman, Warwick Street, Worthing: £25,000
Bengal Palace, Church Street, Seaford: £15,000
Curry Villa, Wick Parade, Littlehampton: £10,000
So India, Station Road, East Preston: £5,000
Chicken Cottage, Littlehampton: £5,000
Top Solar Ltd, East Beach Street, Hastings: £5,000
- The Home Office has supplied the above information. It is possible in the time since the fines were issued the businesses have changed hands.