How to Avoid ‘Rogue’ Agencies

Feb 7, 2024

In most industries we all come across those ‘rogue’ businesses that give recruitment agencies a bad reputation.

I just wanted to write about how you can avoid using ‘rogue’ agencies and how they are affecting the industry.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good staffing agencies out there doing their best in this volatile market.

But this post is about the bad ones (of which sadly, there are also many) who pollute our industry, and how to avoid them – whether you’re a care/catering business, a nurse a carer or a chef.

In 2002 myself and Colin opened Full Circle Catering Agency as we wanted to provide an honest service that paid well to Chefs, and charged an acceptable rate to Hospitality owners whilst following the correct procedures.

We soon gained a good reputation, which was so rewarding that we were running the business correctly.

Shortly after opening the business, we employed Rachel Wood ( Hospitality Trainer) to join our office team, who has now become a Director and later employed Craig French (ex-Head Chef) who is now our Senior Catering Consultant.

In 2009 we opened Full Circle Care to complement the Full Circle Catering Agency and this was a big hit. We employed Susan Cooper who had previous experience in healthcare, and she soon gained the trust of clients and staff. We adopted the same philosophy and hence gained registration from CQC in 2010.

It should not have been revolutionary – but in many ways, it was.

After watching the BBC’s upsetting Panorama investigation over Christmas, which exposed terrible, interwoven cases of poor practises, staff exploitation and patient neglect.

Employment agencies operate at the heart of almost every key worker profession, employing around one million workers in the UK. It has long been an industry rife with exploitation, including recruitment scams, non-payment and even modern slavery.

An incredibly complex system coupled with vulnerable, low-paid workers creates a labour market rife with criminal activity.

Here are some harsh truths to help you recognise how bad agencies can operate, and why they get away with it.

Setting up an agency is way too easy

Anyone can set up a staffing agency, with no background experience or criminal record checks. This is especially true in England, where CQC decided in 2010 that nursing agencies didn’t need to follow any set regulations.

When Full Circle Care Agency  gained our CQC Registration, the CQC officer said that we were one of the best quality agencies and would be happy to work with us!

With very low barriers to entry in England and no regulations, new agencies pop up as quickly as they fold. They are destructive to our reputation, underpay staff so that they can undercharge clients in the private sector and over charge in the public sector.

Keith Rosser, Chair of SaferJobs,  says the employment business sector is particularly vulnerable because “there’s no barriers to entry.”

“It’s quite shadowy, you can set yourself up on Companies House tomorrow and you can be a recruitment company next week,” he said. “You can set up a recruitment agency, keep your head down and the likelihood is that no one will come knocking on your door ever. If you’re a fraudster you can make good money.”

Revealed: How rogue employment agencies are exploiting the COVID crisis | openDemocracy

Staff are paying to get paid!

I’ve heard of nurses/ carers and chefs being charged to access their own pay, be fined for cancelling a shift at short notice with a valid reason and having their holiday pay included in their hourly rate which is already paid at minimum wage.

Stories of agencies holding on to workers’ passports and using threatening language are also sadly not uncommon.

Additionally, there are reports of agencies withholding holiday pay from workers but still billing their clients for it.

Documents can be forged

There’s a scarily real risk of a person with a fake ID and no evidence of relevant qualifications turning up to work at your establishment, depending on your agency.

This is because getting hold of documentation – such as IDs, right to work checks, relevant qualifications, references, work history and training – can be time-consuming, so some agencies cut corners; some even choosing to forge a fair few of these documents.

Some don’t pay minimum wage

From the 1st April 2024, for 21years and above, it will cost Agencies £14.22 per hour to comply with the minimum wage will rise to, so if you are being charged less than this then you should be raising alarm bells!

Any agency that says they can supply a nurse/ carer/ chef or catering assistant  for around this cost or less will intentionally not be making a profit (unlikely!); or breaking the law – as they will be taking their cut out of their workers’ enshrined wages.

I hear of this happening all the time with the current minimum wage, and don’t expect those agencies to have a fit of conscience by not raising their prices in April.

Bottom line: If the cost sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

It’s illegal and unethical on every level on these agencies’ part.

How to avoid bad agencies (like the above!)

These harsh truths expose how some staffing agencies work. Low barriers to entry and lack of regulation does attract people who are happy to cut corners to make a quick buck.

There are, however, many agencies  like Full Circle Employment Agency out there, who pay fairly and have high compliance standards in place.

As a client or a worker, here are questions to ask when looking for your next agency…

  1. What are their governance, quality and incident reporting guidelines and processes? Do they even have any?
  2. Do they use umbrella companies? (If they do, find another agency that doesn’t.)
  3. If they are charging low rates, ask them how they can operate a business successfully and profitably? How can they guarantee people are paid a fair wage; and how can they ensure all staff are qualified and trained on such low margins?
  4. What’s their typical margin? 15%-25% is reasonable. Anything under means they will not be able to run a credible operation and anything over is just ripping off clients and their workers.
  5. How do they validate staff training, and most importantly, maintain it and produce valid certificates?
  6. Can they provide a copy of their insurance policies?
  7. Are there any additional fees they charge? What are they, and why do they charge them?
  8. Can they prove the worker has previous work experience in that role?
  9. Do they employ staff that already are on a sponsorship, if so, how do they monitor their hours. If they work for more than 20 hours a week then the agency can incur a fine.
  10. Do they check the staff aren’t working days & nights with several agencies hence not have the appropriate break which could easily lead to safeguarding issues.

Asking these questions will help you find an agency that does better for you.

May I just add that there are many agencies out there that are excellent, operate correctly and will realise who these are when you start your initial communications with them.

If you would like to find out more information about Full Circle Employment Agency  then please call 01623 404224 anytime or send an email to