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What is the Employment Agency Inspectorate?

The Employment Agency Inspectorate (EAI) of the Department for the Economy (DfE) is responsible for the regulation of the Northern Ireland private recruitment sector. The mission of the EAI is to protect work-seekers and hirers who use the services of employment agencies and employment businesses.

The main role of the EAI is to ensure compliance with legislation whilst following Better Regulation principles. This approach ensures that important protections are maintained for those people who use employment agencies and businesses, without restricting the growth potential of the recruitment sector.

The three main functions of the EAI are to:

  • Increase compliance with agency legislation. We aim to make our enforcement of the legislation fair, proportionate and targeted.
  • Raise awareness of agency legislation and the role of the EAI. There are minimum standards that hirers and work-seekers can expect from agencies, and we want to ensure that agencies and users know what these are.
  • Deliver better customer service through developing stronger ties. We aim to provide a high level of customer service by working closely with other workplace rights enforcement bodies, agency representatives, and the voluntary and community sector. This will assist our Inspectors to be fully aware of the issues affecting work seekers (especially the vulnerable) and take appropriate action.

Legislation and Enforcement

The relevant legislation is the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 (“the 1981 Order”) and the Conduct of Employment Agencies and the Employment Businesses Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005 (“ the Conduct Regulations ”). The legislation sets minimum standards of conduct covering areas such as fees, terms and conditions, safeguarding of clients’ money, advertisements and record- keeping.

The 1981 Order provides the Department with the power to make legislation to regulate the private recruitment sector and was amended 2006 and 2010

The Conduct Regulations were brought into operation by the Department in 2005 and were amended in 2008 and 2010.

Inspections

The EAI plans an annual programme of inspections based on an ongoing identification and assessment of risks. These risks may be sectoral, geographical, or historical (such as previous infringements). Attention is focused on:

  • Complaints from hirers and work-seekers: these have priority over inter-agency complaints;
  • Agencies that have not been inspected previously or are new;
  • Agencies and businesses working in sectors with vulnerable adults (e.g. nursing homes) and children;
  • Agencies placing a high proportion of migrant workers;
  • Breached regulations which afford the most protection to work-seekers and hirers;
  • Agencies about which the EAI or other enforcement agencies have a concern.

Agencies in breach of the legislation may receive a follow-up inspection, which will normally take place 3-6 months following the first inspection.

The EAI may legally share information arising from an inspection with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) National Minimum Wage compliance officers and, in relevant cases, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). Joint inspections with other enforcement bodies may be undertaken if a risk is identified which is of common interest.

EAI inspectors can enter and inspect the premises and records of all employment agencies and businesses in NI to ensure compliance with the 1981 Order and the Conduct Regulations.

Guidance and Further Support and Information

The EAI has produced guidance on the Conduct Regulations for work-seekers, hirers and agencies.

Work-seekers can find more guidance around agency work on the NIdirect website.

Hirers and agencies can find more guidance around agency work on the NIbusiness information website.

Complaints
The EAI can only investigate certain types of complaints or activities that are specified in the 1981 Order and/or the Conduct Regulations.

The types of complaint the EAI can investigate, include:

If you are a work-seeker

  • have you been charged by an employment agency to find you work?
  • has your employment agency failed to agree on terms with you?
  • have you applied for a job, only to be told that it doesn’t exist?
  • have you had your details forwarded to an employer without your knowledge?
  • have you been forced to pay for any of the agency’s other services before the agency will take you on their books?

If you are an employer

  • has an employment agency not agreed on terms with you?
  • have you found an agency advertising one of your vacancies without your consent

If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’ and you wish to make a complaint, you can contact the EAI.

Other complaints

If your complaint is not related to any of the examples listed above, there are other government bodies which are responsible for the enforcement of other workplace rights in NI.

Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority works in partnership to protect vulnerable and exploited workers. It is responsible for regulating employment agencies, labour providers and gangmasters who provide workers to the agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and any associated processing and packaging sectors

HM Revenue and Customs

HM Revenue and Customs is responsible for the enforcement of National Minimum Wage requirements and ensuring that workers and employees are paid appropriately.

RQIA

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) is the body responsible for monitoring and inspecting the availability and quality of health and social care services in Northern Ireland.

Useful Contacts

For work-seekers and Employers in Northern Ireland it is useful to have this contacts at hand:

  • Employment Agency Inspectorate Department for the Economy
    • Fourth Floor, Adelaide House 39-49 Adelaide Street. Belfast BT2 8FD
    • E-mail: eai@economy-ni.gov.uk
    • Tel: 028 90 257554
  • Labour Relations Agency Head Office
    • 2-16 Gordon Street. Belfast BT1 2LG
    • E-mail: info@lra.org.uk
    • Tel: 028 9032 1442
  • Northern Ireland Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux Regional Office
  • Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service Helpline
  • Gangmasters Licensing Authority

Agency complaints in England, Scotland and Wales

If you have an agency-related complaint and you live in England, Scotland or Wales, see Pay and Work Rights.

If you found this useful, see how else we can support your recruitment agency.