Do you work as an unpaid intern and should you be paid? Mark Watson offers some straightforward answers to the basic questions, in this article: Claiming your pay
Should I be getting paid?
The simple answer is yes, in many cases you should. The Minimum Wage regulations stipulate that all workers should be paid at least the legal minimum for the work they do, unless specifically exempted (for example, being a magistrate is a voluntary role)
The Minimum Wage is currently £6.19 per hour (adult rate) – that is the legal minimum. So if you have done 3 months’ work (40 hours a week) you should have been paid around £3,200.
But I’m an intern – they don’t have to be paid do they?
Firstly it makes absolutely no difference what you are called in terms of whether you should be paid or not. “Intern” has no meaning under the Minimum Wage regulations and “work experience” can only be used as an exception to the regulations where it involves a full time student on a placement which is a required part of their studies i.e. that they need to undertake it, or something like it, to pass their course. If you are not a student, or you are one and are doing this “internship” outside your studies (e.g. during the holidays), then you cannot legally be unpaid just because it is called “work experience”. If your internship is for a charity or an associated body then that is an exception under the regulations and you need not be paid; most employers do not fall into that category.
How do I know whether I should be paid or not?
This all depends on what you do and the way you are treated. If you are treated like a worker, then you should be paid as one, whatever they call you. So if, for example, you are given set hours that you are expected to attend, or specific work that you are expected to do then it is likely that you should be paid. Similarly if you are relied on to do work that, if you or another intern did not do it, would have to be done by a paid employee then you should be paid. It makes no difference that you do not have a written contract, a worker/employer contract can come about purely as a result of the way you are treated, it can be entirely unspoken and still apply.
When it comes to deciding whether you should be paid or not there is no one defining rule, it all depends on the circumstances. In essence however if this internship is not primarily a shadowing or training experience and is more like “experience through work” then it is very likely that you should be paid.
But I agreed not to be paid
It makes absolutely no difference whether you knew you would be unpaid when you did this work or not, nor whether you agreed to it. You cannot give away your right to be paid the legal minimum any more than the employer can deprive you of it. If you are a worker, you must be paid.
I was an intern a long time ago – can I still claim?
You can take a complaint about unpaid wages to HMRC at any time and they may take it up, there is no time limit. However if it is to go to a tribunal then you need to make a claim within three months.
What should I do next?
You can drop me a line and ask for advice, in your own name or anonymously. I have helped many people doing internships to apply for the pay they should have been receiving for their work and I’d be more than happy to help you, whether you choose to go through with a claim or not. You can give me as much or as little detail as you like about your situation and ask me any question you like. Oh and in case you were wondering, I don’t charge anything; you’ve lost out on enough money already you don’t want to get any poorer!
My email address is derrywatson(at)gmail(dot)com. I’ve seen enough young people lose out on the pay they should be getting and I want to stop it happening to any more. Feel free to drop me a line at any time.
Mark Watson leads a campaign to secure the Minimum Wage for interns in situations where they are simply being used as unpaid workers. He was part of a group of freelance TV workers that helped bring about new official work experience guidelines in TV and Film and has helped many young people in this and other industries to make successful Minimum Wage claims. He has put together this guide to answer some of the more common questions about internships and the Minimum Wage.