Is it legal for an employment agency to charge me?

Employment agencies and employment businesses are, as a general rule, prohibited by the Employment Agencies Act 1973 and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003, from charging or seeking to charge work-seekers for the service of finding or seeking to find work for them. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule. 

For the purpose of the legislation an “employment agency” ordinarily introduces candidates for permanent vacancies and an “employment business” ordinarily supplies temporary workers. However, many companies provide both services and will, therefore, fall within both definitions.

In what circumstances can an employment agency or an employment business charge a fee?

Exceptions for certain occupations

The restriction on charging fees to work-seekers does not apply where an agency or employment business has been engaged by a work-seeker to find or seek to find employment in relation to certain types of occupations. However, even in relation to such occupations there are still restrictions on what agencies and employment businesses are able to charge. The relevant occupations for these purposes are as follows: 

  • Actors, musicians, singers, dancers, or other performers; 
  • Composers, writers, artists, directors, production managers, lighting cameramen, camera operators, make up artists, film editors, action arrangers or co-ordinators, stunt arrangers, costume or production designers, recording engineers, property masters, film continuity persons, sound mixers, photographers, stage managers, producers, choreographers, theatre designers; 
  • Photographic or fashion models; 
  • Professional sports persons. 
  • Where an agency or employment business is entitled to charge a fee by reason of the work being within one of these fields the agency or employment business is only, as a general rule, allowed to charge a fee or commission payable out of the work-seeker’s earnings in any such employment which the agency or employment business has found him. There is an exception to this general rule for publications.

Exception for publications

An exception to this general rule applies to fees charged to a work-seeker by an agency or employment business in respect of the inclusion of information about the work-seeker in a publication. However, even where this exception applies there are still restrictions on an agency or employment business’ ability to charge the work-seeker a fee. 

A fee can only be charged if: 

  • the publication is wholly for the purpose of finding the work-seeker employment in and/or providing hirers with information about work-seekers;  
  • and either the only work-finding service provided by the agency or employment business or any person connected with it to the work-seeker is the publication; 
  • or the fee charged to the work-seeker amounts to no more than a reasonable estimate of the cost of producing and circulating the publication attributable to the inclusion of information about that work-seeker in the publication; 
  • and the agency or employment business has, before it entered into the contract with the work-seeker under which it seeks to charge a fee, made available to the work-seeker a copy of a current edition of the publication (or, where the publication only exists in an electronic form, given the work-seeker access to a current edition of the publication) in which the agency or employment business is offering to include information about the work-seeker.

Restriction where a fee has been charged to the hirer

If the agency or employment business, or any person connected with it, has charged a fee to the hirer in respect of the service of supplying or introducing the work-seeker then the agency or employment business is not entitled to charge the work-seeker a fee in addition.

Restriction where an agency or employment business is connected with the hirer

If the agency or employment business is connected with the hirer then the agency or employment business is only allowed to charge a fee to the work-seeker if the agency or employment business informed the work-seeker that it is connected with the hirer prior to providing the service in respect of which the fee is to be charged.

Other exceptions

Whilst most of the exceptions to the general rule that an agency or employment business can not charge a work-seeker for its services relate to the occupations referred to above, there are two exceptions which apply to all types of occupations.  These are as follows: 

Publications containing information about employers

An agency or employment business is entitled to charge a fee to a work-seeker where the fee consists of a charge to the work-seeker in respect of the purchase of or subscription for a publication containing information about employers. However, this exception will only apply where this is the only work-finding service provided by the agency or employment business or any person connected with it, to the work-seeker and the agency or employment business has made available to the work-seeker a copy of the current edition of the publication (or, where the publication exists only in electronic form, given him access to a current edition of the publication) in advance of the work-seeker purchasing or subscribing to the publication.

Work-seekers who are companies

There is no restriction on an agency or employment business charging for the service of finding or seeking to find a work-seeker employment where the work-seeker in question is a company and the employment is in an occupation other than the specific occupations referred to above.

Can an agency or employment business require a work-seeker to use additional services?

Agencies and employment businesses are prohibited from requiring work-seekers to use services for which they are entitled to charge as condition of providing work-finding services.   

They are also prohibited from requiring work-seekers to hire or purchase goods as a condition of providing work-finding services to a work-seeker. 

These restrictions apply to services provided by the agency or employment business itself and also to services provided by any person with whom the agency or employment business is connected.