unpaid internship illegal

Is your unpaid internship illegal?

The Sutton Trust, a large education charity aimed at increasing social mobility, has published a report highlighting that despite minimum wage legislation making many an unpaid internship illegal, this law is not properly enforced, allowing employers to take advantage of the ambiguities. Despite this exploitation, there have been no recorded prosecutions in relation to the National Minimum Wage and interns.
In January 2017 a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility resolved that interns should be paid after the first month. Later, research published by the Social Mobility Commission in October 2017 revealed that 75% of nearly 5,000 adults surveyed supported this. A private members bill is now due to be introduced, which, if passed, would mean that unpaid internships lasting more than a month would be forbidden.

How do I know whether I should pay my interns?

If the intern does work which is considered to be valuable to their employer, and the intern has set hours and responsibilities, they are likely to qualify as an employee under UK employment law. This means that they are entitled to be paid the minimum wage.

Internships are sometimes called work placements or work experience. These terms have no legal status on their own. The rights afforded to them depend on their employment status and whether they’re classed as either a worker, a volunteer or an employee.

When should I not pay my interns?

  • If a student is required to do an internship for a period of time shorter than 12 months as part of a UK-based higher education course.
  • If the intern is a work experience student of compulsory school age of under 16 years old.
  • Voluntary workers are not entitled to the minimum wage if both of the following criteria apply: they’re working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body or a statutory body AND they don’t get paid, except for limited benefits (e.g reasonable lunch or travel expenses)
  • If an internship only involves shadowing an employee – they are only observing and not taking part in work.


Are your employment policies and practices up to scratch?

If your company is planning to bring on interns, it is crucial that you fully understand the relevant legal requirements. Internships are a fantastic way to support students and recent graduates as they begin their careers, while also enabling employers to nurture talent. However, violation of the law can lead to stiff penalties. For advice on your employment policies and practices, or for any other legal assistance relating to your company, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with My Business Counsel by either visiting the Contact Us page or calling us on +44 (0) 121 562 1704. Our legal team is made up of senior lawyers who have exited top UK firms to practise law on a consultancy basis, meaning that you will receive expert advice and a highly personalised service.