What are your rights: unpaid internships?

Know your rights for your internship: discover whether you are entitled to the National Minimum Wage

Overview

Before applying and agreeing to an internship, it is beneficial to read and fully understand the small print: what the internship requires from you, the duration of the placement, what costs may incur from the internship (e.g. accommodation etc.), and what you are entitled to.

 

What is an internship and are you eligible for a wage?

Gov.uk state that ‘some forms of work experience, including placements and internships, may be referred to as ‘unpaid work’ or ‘expenses only’, where someone gives their services free of charge in order to develop or maintain their skills.’

The title of your internship does not determine whether or not you are entitled to the National Minimum Wage. Similarly, the type of work and the profession or sector you work in doesn’t determine your eligibility for the National Minimum Wage. For example, just because the role is advertised as an ‘unpaid internship’, it doesn’t mean that you don’t qualify for payment.

According to the law, what qualifies you for the NMW is whether the agreement or arrangement you have made with your employer/work experience manager renders you a worker, for the purpose of receiving a minimum wage.

 

Exemptions for National Minimum Wage

There are clear guidelines that state that the below do not entitle you for the NMW:

  • If you have to undergo an internship, as part of your educational studies (for less than a year)
  • If you are a work experience student of the school compulsory age (i.e. under 16)
  • If you are volunteering to work with no contract (i.e. you aren’t obliged to turn up to work)
  • If you are on the following European Union programmes: Leonardo da Vinci, Youth in Action, Erasmus, or Comenius.
  • If you are only work shadowing an employee (i.e. you do not carry out any work, instead you are observing an employee from the business as they go about their working day)
  • If you are a voluntary worker for: a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body, or a statutory body, and if you don’t get paid (except perhaps for travel and/or lunch expenses).

 

Eligibility for the National Minimum Wage

If an intern is counted as a worker in the company, then they are entitled to at least the NMW. If any of the below apply to you; you are entitled to a minimum wage:

  • If you have a contract (which can mean an oral, implied or a written contract)
  • If you are taken on as an ‘unpaid intern’ but are promised employment after the internship
  • If you are undertaking work experience with a financial reward (i.e. you have stated that you are walking to work and you are still given a set amount of travel expenses)
  • If you agree to unpaid work with a reward (i.e. if you are promised a benefit that has a monetary value that counts as a reward).