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Work experience and the National Minimum Wage

Work experience can be paid or unpaid, depending on the arrangements you have with your employer. Find out if you are entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage (NMW) when doing work experience.

What counts as work experience?

The term 'work experience' generally refers to a limited period of time that you spend with an employer.

Work experience can give you:

  • the opportunity to learn about working life and the working environment
  • the chance to try your hand at particular tasks
  • an opportunity to watch and learn

The nature, length and arrangements for work experience vary greatly.

Entitlement to the NMW during work experience

If you are doing work experience your entitlement to the National Minimum Wage (NMW) depends on the arrangements under which you are working.

One of the following categories will apply:

  • you are a worker and eligible for the NMW
  • you are a worker, but expressly exempt in the legislation and not eligible for the NMW
  • you are not a worker and therefore not eligible for the NMW

Entitlement to the NMW does not depend on your job title. For example, you are not prevented from qualifying for the NMW by:

  • being called a work experience trainee, an unpaid intern or a volunteer
  • having your role in the business described as a placement or unpaid work

If you are entitled to the NMW, you cannot give up your entitlement even if you agree with your employer to be paid a wage below the NMW.

Work experience - who is exempt from the NMW

Almost all individuals who are workers in the United Kingdom (UK) are entitled to the NMW. The exceptions if you are doing work experience are

Students doing work experience as part of a course

You may not be entitled to the NMW if both of the following apply:

  • you do work experience as part of a UK-based higher or further education course which qualifies in the legislation
  • your work experience placement does not exceed one year

However, this exemption does not cover you if you:

  • take on gap year work (so long as you are above compulsory school leaving age)
  • take on work or work experience which is not part of your course

Compulsory school age

If you are of compulsory school age and do work experience you are not entitled to the NMW.

Voluntary workers

Voluntary workers are specifically defined in NMW legislation and are not entitled to the NMW.

You will be a voluntary worker if you receive only limited and specific benefits such as reasonable travel or lunch expenses and work for:

  • a charity
  • a voluntary organisation
  • an associated fund raising body
  • a statutory body

In addition under the terms of your employment you are not entitled to:

  • any monetary payments other than for expenses incurred, or likely to be incurred, to enable you to perform your duties
  • any benefits in kind other than for subsistence or reasonable accommodation

Government and European programmes

If you participate in certain Government and European programmes you will not be entitled to the NMW for work you do as part of the programme.

Non-worker groups relevant to work experience

You may fall outside the definition of a worker, and not be entitled to the NMW. The following examples are particularly relevant to work experience.

Work shadowing

If you do a placement that does not involve any work being performed, such as watching, listening and questioning, you are not entitled to the NMW.

Volunteering

In general, you are a volunteer if:

  • you take on work for a particular organisation with no entitlement to financial reward or benefit, except out-of-pocket expenses
  • you do not have to turn up for work if you don't want to (even if people expect you to or you generally work to a regular pattern)

As a volunteer you will suffer no detriment (unfair treatment) if you fail to perform your services. The intention behind unpaid activity (whether to benefit the environment, other groups or you as an individual) is not relevant when determining your status.

You can find out more information about determining whether you are a volunteer.

Record keeping when on work experience

You should consider keeping records of agreements you make with your employer, the tasks you are asked to perform and the hours you work. This information can be used as evidence if it transpires that you are a worker who is eligible for the NMW.

Where can you get help?

The Pay and Work Rights Helpline gives confidential help and advice on the NMW and can handle calls in over 100 languages. If you are not being paid the NMW you can make a complaint to them

  • Pay and Work Rights Helpline 0800 917 2368

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

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