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Employment agency rules

To protect the rights of workers, there are certain controls placed on employment agencies and businesses. If your employment agency doesn't follow these rules then you can make a complaint to the Employment Agency Inspectorate (EAI).

Restrictions on employment agencies and businesses

The rules governing employment agencies apply if:

  • they are trying to find you temporary work
  • you are a jobseeker looking for permanent employment with a new employer

There are differences in the rules that apply, depending on whether you are looking for temporary or permanent work.

Responsibilities of agencies

If you are an agency worker using an agency, your agency must give you written terms of employment before looking for work for you. This should include:

  • whether you are employed under a contract for services or a contract of employment
  • your notice period
  • your pay details
  • your holiday entitlement

Your agency must also

  • pay you for work you have done, even if the employment agency hasn’t been paid by the hiring company
  • state the truth when placing advertisements (this also applies to jobseekers using an employment agency to find a job)

If a new job is offered to you, your agency must also give you the full written details of any new job within three days. This should include:

  • who you will be working for
  • start date
  • likely duration of the work
  • type of work
  • location
  • hours
  • health and safety risks and steps the hirer has taken to control such risks
  • experience, training or qualifications needed for the role
  • any expenses payable
  • your rate of pay

Restrictions on agencies

If you are an agency worker using an agency, your agency can't:

  • charge a fee for finding you work
  • change your terms of employment with them without your permission
  • withhold payment of wages to you because you failed to produce a signed timesheet (however, the employment agency can make sure that you have actually worked)
  • penalise you for ending an assignment (however this does not apply if you are employed under a contract of employment)
  • stop you from taking a permanent job with a hiring company that you have temped with (although in certain circumstances, the agency can require a fee from the hiring company)
  • stop you registering with other agencies (also applies to jobseekers)
  • disclose information about you to any third parties (other than for legal purposes or to any professional body of which you are a member) or to a current employer without your permission (also applies to jobseekers)
  • enter into a contract with a hirer on your behalf or sign you up to a contract on behalf of a hirer (also applies to jobseekers)
  • can't make you use fee-paying services as a requirement for finding you work, such as CV writing
  • supply you to a hirer to perform the work usually performed by their own employees who are involved in a strike or other industrial action

Fees and payments for services

Your employment agency can’t charge you a fee for finding or trying to find you work but they can charge you for additional non-work-finding services such as CV writing. However, they can't make you use such a fee-paying service provided by them or someone connected to them as a requirement for finding you work.

If your employment agency provides services which are charged for, you must be given full written details of the services including your right to cancel or withdraw from the services and the length of the notice period you must give.

You can cancel any paid services without suffering any penalty, including any services for accommodation, transport or training. However, you must give a minimum of 10 working days written notice to the agency to cancel living accommodation and a minimum of five working days notice for all other services.

If your employment agency sets out a longer notice period, then it is breaking the law and you should make a complaint about the agency. This applies equally to agency workers and jobseekers using an employment agency to find a new job.

Working abroad

If you're offered work abroad, your agency must check that the hiring company has business premises in the UK. If they don’t then your agency must ask the hiring company for a written statement to say that the proposed work will not be detrimental to your interests.

If you are looking for work abroad with an agency and they pay your travel expenses to the job, then the agency must also pay for your return fare:

  • when your job ends
  • if the job doesn't start
  • if they have a written agreement with your hiring company to pay
  • if your hiring company doesn’t pay for the return fare when they should

If you are accepting a job abroad you should check the written statement provided by your agency carefully to make sure that you are clear about the terms and conditions of the employment before you leave.

Workers under the age of 18

If you are under 18 years old there are additional protections for you. An agency must check that you have received vocational guidance from the local careers service if you are expected to work during school hours. If the agency is arranging a job away from home (for example, abroad) for you then it must obtain written consent from your parent or guardian.

Differences in the entertainment and modelling industries

If you use employment agencies to find you work in the entertainment or modelling industries then some slightly different rules apply to those agencies.

Fees payable by the hiring business

There are different fees that agencies and employers sometimes pay to each other. You should not be charged for any of the following fees.

Temp-to-perm fees

If your hiring company wants to take you on permanently they may have to pay your employment agency a ‘temp-to-perm’ fee.

Temp-to-temp fees

If your hiring company changes the agency they use but wants you to keep working for them as a temp, then they might request that you change or register with another agency. Your old agency could charge your hiring company a ‘temp-to-temp’ fee for your transfer to another agency.

Temp-to-third party fees

If your hiring company introduces you to another business that employs you directly your agency could charge the first business a ‘temp-to-third party’ fee.

Where to get help

The Department for Employment and Learning's Employment Agency Inspectorate (EAI) investigates complaints about employment agencies or businesses.

If you have a problem with an employment agency, you can use the EAI online form to make a complaint.

Telephone: EAI Helpline 028 9025 7554 (9.00 am to 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday)

Letter: Please write to:

Employment Agency Inspectorate (EAI)
Department for Employment and Learning
Employment Relations Policy and Legislation Branch
First Floor
Waterfront Plaza
8 Laganbank Road

If the agency has breached the terms of your contract you can take action yourself through the courts. If the agency makes an unlawful deduction from your pay you can complain to an Industrial Tribunal.

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.

If you are a member of a trade union you can get help, advice and support from them

Agents prohibited from operating in Northern Ireland

Name of Prohibited Agent Name of Agency Sector Prohibited from Prohibited until
Patrick Duncan 'Dealers Agency' (Belfast) Actors / Entertainers 28 October 2011 27 October 2019
Glyn Davies Formerly t/a "Lothian Variety" and "Emkay Lothian Entertainments" (Lothian Scotland) Entertainers/ models 13 June 2011 12 December 2020

Agents permitted to run or be involved in running an employment agency or employment business in Northern Ireland subject to certain conditions being met

Name of prohibited Agent Sector Conditions apply from Conditions apply to
Susan Davies Entertainers/ Models 13 June 2011 12 December 2020

For further information on these conditions please contact EAI via the details above.

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