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 to find or seek work for them. However, there are some exceptions.

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.

When can an employment agency/ business charge a fee?

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 employment in relation to certain occupations. These are:

  • 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 work-seeker, it is only usually allowed to charge a fee or commission payable out of the work-seeker’s earnings in any employment which the agency or employment business has found him.

Exception for publications

An exception to this general rule applies to fees charged to a work-seeker listed above (apart from models) by an agency or employment business in respect of the inclusion of promotional information about the work-seeker in a publication.
A fee can only be charged if:

  • the publication is wholly to find the work-seeker employment and/or provide hirers with information about the work-seeker; 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, 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 (eg, the agent is related to or employed by the hirer), 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 before providing the service in respect of which the fee is to be charged.

Other exceptions

An agency or employment business can charge a fee to any work-seeker where the fee is in respect of the purchase of, or subscription for, a publication containing information about employers. However, this exception only applies 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.

There is no restriction on an agency or employment business charging to find or seek to find a work-seeker employment where the work-seeker 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.