Are students entitled to the National Minimum Wage?

Yes. The National Minimum Wage Act specifies the minimum rates of pay applicable nationwide. However, how much you are entitled to depends on how old you are.

Here are the current rates (at April 2019):

  • The National Minimum Wage (NMW) rate for workers aged 25 and over is £8.21 an hour (the government calls this rate the ‘National Living Wage');
  • The NMW rate for workers aged 21 to 24 is £7.70 an hour;
  • The NMW rate for workers aged 18 to 20 is £6.15 an hour;
  • The NMW rate for workers aged 16 or 17 is £4.35 an hour.
  • Apprentices under the age of 19, or over 19 but in the first year of their apprenticeship, are entitled to £3.90 per hour.

NMW rates are reviewed annually in April. 

There are special cases for some workers. For example, students doing higher education work placements are exempt from the NMW. Volunteers are not entitled to the NMW. Neither are au pairs living with a family. Some interns will qualify for the NMW. This will depend on whether they are 'workers', legally obliged to provide work for the organisation at which they are 'interning'. Relevant factors could include:

  • language that sounds as if it is intended to create legal obligations – for example 'must' and 'will', when used in the letters and emails setting up the terms of the internship;
  • whether you are doing work that benefits the employer, rather than simply 'shadowing' someone to learn how they do the job;
  • any promises that have been made to you in return for your work on the internship, for example, a good reference or a job at the end;
  • the length of the placement. On its own, the mere fact that an internship has lasted a long time will not turn an intern into a worker entitled to the NMW, but the longer you work in the same place, the more likely you are to do work that benefits the organisation and to end up in what starts to look like an employment relationship.
  • whether you are free to come and go as you please, or alternatively, whether you must keep specific hours and carry out specific duties.
  • what happens if you break the rules. Can you be disciplined if your work fails to meet set standards, or if you don't keep to the hours set?

The NMW is enforced by HMRC. National Minimum Wage enforcement officers have power to collect pay arrears on your behalf, and also to fine and ‘name and shame' the employer. You can contact HMRC via the Acas Helpline, or you can make a written complaint direct to HMRC.

Joining a union and acting together is the best way of making sure you are not treated unfairly in the workplace. Browse our Union Finder tool for more information.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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