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Recently there has been a lot of negative comment in the press regarding the use of interns in the City of London and elsewhere.

Generally, an internship consists of an exchange of services for experience between the intern and an organisation. Interns can use an internship to determine if they have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts or gain worthwhile experience to put on their CV and whilst some interns find permanent, paid employment with the organisations for which they worked this is not guaranteed.

Used correctly an internship can be beneficial to both parties but all too often internees find that they get little or no real experience and are used as a form of cheap labour, particularly as many of them are not even paid for the work they do and might not even get paid expenses to cover their costs in travelling to their workplace.

The legal position is that where an organisation is providing work for the intern to do (and without this why would anyone want an internship) then the intern is legally entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage as their status is that of an employee with the organisation being their employer.

There are some exemptions however so that young people below the school leaving age who are undertaking work experience as part of a higher education course and those work-shadowing rather than working themselves, do not need to be paid.

Just as the law distinguishes between work experience students and interns it also distinguishes between voluntary workers and volunteers as voluntary workers have a contract with their employer and volunteers do not.

Public sector organisations, charities and voluntary organisations – but not businesses – can create voluntary worker posts which are essentially unpaid jobs (though expenses may be paid). Volunteers however are exempt from the minimum wage as there is no obligation to give them any work to do.

Whilst some businesses are genuinely ignorant of the legal position of an intern others are exploiting young people who, because they want a good reference when they leave, seldom complain about the way they are treated and who genuinely are unaware that they have the right to be paid.

As of 1st October 2014 the National Minimum Wage (per hour) in the UK is as follows (2013 rates in brackets):

21 and over £6.50 (£6.31)
18 to 20 £5.13 (£5.03)
Under 18 £3.79 (£3.72)
*Apprentice £2.73 (£2.68)

*This rate is for apprentices aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year. All other apprentices are entitled to the National Minimum Wage for their age.

The rates are usually updated every October.

Employers and former/current interns should be aware that interns may claim unpaid wages up to six years after they should have been paid. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) are responsible for enforcing the payment of the minimum wage and will help anyone who wishes to make a claim. Employers should be aware that they can be prosecuted for not paying the minimum wage.

Further details and a range of tools for employers and employees (including interns) can be found on the Gov.UK website:

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2 Responses to “Interns are Entitled to the Minimum Wage”

  1. Jorge says:

    Very good post. I’m going through many of these issues as well.

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