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Authorising Officer SMS & Compliance Duties

Among the many compliance duties placed on sponsor licence holders is the requirement to nominate an ‘Authorising Officer’ as one of the key personnel roles.

It will be critical for the individual holding this role to fully understand the extent and importance of their duties as the AO, since the Home Office can impose significant penalties on the organisation where it alleges rules have been breached.

We take a closer look at the responsibilities of the Authorising Officer and key considerations for employers when deciding who to appoint.


Sponsor licence key personnel & SMS

Sponsor licence holders are required to nominate key personnel in specific roles to be responsible for using the Sponsor Management System (SMS) and for overall immigration compliance:

  • An Authorising Officer – responsible for ensuring that compliance duties placed on the organisation under the sponsor licence are met.
  • A Key Contact – the main point of contact between the organisation and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).
  • Level 1 User(s) – responsible for carrying out the day-to-day SMS activities, from assigning certificates of sponsorship and reporting migrant worker activities, to updating the SMS and renewing the sponsor licence. At least one Level 1 user must be appointed, including at least one employee.
  • Level 2 User(s) – are not mandatory, but can be appointed to perform day-to-day SMS functions with fewer permissions than Level 1 users.


It possible for the same person to hold all three mandatory roles.

When taken together, the three key personnel roles should ensure effective management and use of the organisation’s SMS and sponsor licence, including:

  • Managing key personnel and licence details
  • Creating, assigning and viewing Certificates of Sponsorship
  • Applying for and assigning restricted CoS
  • Reporting activities relating to sponsored workers
  • Renewing CoS allocations and applying for additional CoS
  • Applying for premium customer service, where sought
  • Tracking premium and licence renewal applications
  • Paying for and tracking the progress of action plans


The role of the Authorising Officer 

The Authorising Officer has ultimate responsibility for the activities of any staff, or third party representative(s), authorised to use the sponsor management system.

It is also their responsibility to decide how many staff need to have access to the SMS and what level of permission they can have.

The Authorising Officer however will not have automatic access to the SMS to carry out any of the practical functions relating to sponsoring migrant workers, unless they are also named as a Level 1 user. This can be put in place either at the initial application stage or following the grant of the sponsor licence.

They will often be the first and primary point of contact for your organisation with UKVI. They will receive emails concerning changes to sponsors’ duties, the need to renew Certificates of Sponsorship or the licence itself.

They are also required to authorise most of the changes or updates to your licence e.g notifying UKVI of a new branch.


Who can be nominated as an Authorising Officer?

The Authorising Officer should be the most senior person within the organisation responsible for the recruitment of PBS workers. Unlike other key personnel roles, employers cannot assign the AO role to a legal representative. It is also not permitted for an external party engaged for a specific project (eg contractor) to act as Authorising Officer.

Key personnel have to be permanently based in the UK for the duration of the period that they fill the role.

When assessing an application for a sponsor licence, UKVI will perform a suitability check on nominated key personnel including the AO.

Issues with the licence can arise if any of the key personnel are identified as having unspent criminal convictions, being subject of debt or bankruptcy restrictions, previous immigration violations or past non-compliance with sponsor requirements and immigration rules.


What are the AO’s duties?

The Authorising Officer is responsible for ensuring that the duties placed on the employer under the sponsor licence are met. It is essential that the Authorising Officer regularly reviews activity relating to the SMS and that key personnel are performing their duties and kept updated any changes in the rules governing licence compliance.

These include:

  • Record-keeping duties – to retain any documents submitted as part of the application for a sponsor licence, including documents relating to each migrant worker, together with their up-to-date contact details.
  • Reporting duties – to report certain activities relating to migrant workers within a specified timeframe, in particular non-attendance, non-compliance or disappearance, as well as any significant changes in the size or structure of the organisation.
  • Monitoring duties – to monitor the immigration status of sponsored migrant workers so as to prevent illegal working. In particular, they must only assign certificates of sponsorship to migrants who are appropriately qualified, registered and/or experienced to do the job on offer, and no longer employ migrants who are no longer permitted to do the job in question, for example, their leave to remain has expired.


What are the consequences of non-compliance?

Failure to comply the UKVI requirements for using the system, or to ensure compliance on the part of any other SMS users, will result in action being taken against the employer as the sponsor licence holder.

Penalties can include the following:

  • Downgrading the sponsor licence rating from “A” to “B” – this can involve a time-limited action plan, at your employer’s expense, to restore the rating to a grade “A”.
  • Suspension or revocation of the sponsor licence – typically this is where there has been a significant or systematic failing, and the sponsor licence holder is deemed to pose a serious threat to immigration control.
  • Where the Home Office alleges right to work duties have been breached, the organisation could face a civil penalty.


Need assistance?

Organisations need to ensure key personnel are appointed and trained to carry out their duties effectively. In addition, there should be effective systems in place to monitor and check the activities of all system users, to maintain continued compliance. For example, as a minimum, CoS’ assigned to migrant employees should be checked on a monthly basis.

DavidsonMorris specialises in all aspects of UK sponsorship licences, from applications and extensions through to ongoing management and compliance. We offer training for key personnel and can support you if the Home Office is alleging your organisation has breached its compliance duties.

For advice on any aspect of your sponsor licence or compliant use of the SMS, contact us.


Authorising officer role FAQs

What is an Authorising officer?

One of the sponsor licence key personnel roles, the Authorising Officer must be a senior and competent person responsible for those appointed to manage the company's licence via the SMS.

What is sponsor management system?

The SMS is the Home Office's online system for sponsor licence holders to manage their licence and meet their compliance duties to report and record changes and information relating to their organisation and sponsored workers.

How do you get a sponsorship licence?

Provided you are eligible, your company will need to make an application to the Home Office and pay the relevant fees.


Last updated: 27 February 2021

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