Fines for hauliers inadvertently bringing stowaways into the UK will rise from £2,000 to £10,000 per migrant, the Home Office has announced.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told MPs the move is aimed at addressing carelessness and negligence from drivers failing to secure their vehicles.
In 2020/21, there were 3,145 incidents where clandestine entrants were found hidden in vehicles, despite the Covid-19 pandemic causing a lower volume of traffic, rising to 3,838 in 2021/22.
Mr Jenrick said ministers were concerned the existing penalty scheme – unchanged since 2002 – was not having enough of an effect.
“Drivers and other responsible persons are not taking the steps required to secure their vehicles and clandestine entrants are continuing to use these routes to come to the UK,” he said.
The increased fines, new maximum penalty levels and a new penalty for failing to adequately secure a goods vehicle are expected to come into force from February 13.
“Our reforms, including new penalty levels, have been designed to strike a better balance between disincentivising negligence and failures to comply with vehicle security standards, while ensuring that the regime is not overly burdensome on industry,” he said.
The new maximum fine will apply for each migrant found in a vehicle, meaning if a driver has two stowaways they could face a £20,000 penalty.
As well as higher fines, the changes will include legislation setting out new security standards for all vehicles.
The measures are designed to target negligence rather than deliberate acts and anyone involved in people smuggling will face criminal prosecution rather than the civil penalty scheme.
A Home Office spokesman said: “This is the first overhaul of the clandestine entrant civil penalty Scheme in 20 years and demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to cracking down on illegal migration.
“Far too many vehicles are currently not adequately secured.
“These measures are another tool in securing our border, deterring illegal migration and disrupting the business model of people smugglers.”