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payment of interns

What is the law regarding the payment of interns?

The combination of a massive financial crisis with a surge in the number of people who have degrees means that it is very difficult for graduates to stand out from the crowd. One of the most popular ways that they can make their CV look exceptional is through work experience. For an employer there are several benefits to hiring an intern: simple but time-consuming tasks can be completed by them, you might ultimately want to hire them, they may offer new ideas from a fresh perspective, and they are eager to work hard. The law regarding interns can seem very complicated which is why some organisations pay interns nothing at all while others provide more than minimum wage. The following is a very basic overview of the payment of interns, if you have any questions please contact Lanshaws for advice:

Most Internships Should Be Paid

If you have been looking at other internships that are available recently then you may have come across several that do not offer any money whatsoever. However the majority of internships / work experience should be paid. If your intern is expected to attend and work during certain times on particular days of the week such as 9-5 Monday-Friday then they are probably entitled to some sort of payment even if it is just covering travel expenses.

The Length of the Internship

An internship that is unpaid should not exceed 4 weeks. If you are offering an internship that is any longer than this then you should expect to provide some sort of payment. A person cannot be identified as a “worker” if they are on an unpaid placement. Essentially this means that they cannot be made to work hours that do not suit them or complete tasks that they do not want to do.

Internships Which Are Longer than Three Months

If an internship is to last longer than 3 months then it is recommended by the CIPD that travel expenses at the very least should be covered. The CIPD also state that here is “a strong case” for paying the national minimum wage. Although at present this is not a legal requirement, 3 months is a long time to expect somebody to work for no wage.

Work Experience

If the individual is undertaking work experience then they do not need to be paid. For it to class as work experience it should 4 weeks or under.

The Nature of the Work Experience

Just calling something “work experience” or “an internship” is not enough to make it legally recognised as either of those things. According to the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills “What matters is the nature of the relationship between the student & the organisation”. As mentioned above, if the individual is expected to be at the workplace at certain times then the individual is a “worker” and should be paid. An employer can request that the person is there certain hours but if the person fails to attend then they cannot be punished.

Voluntary Work

Voluntary work does not need to be paid. This may sound very obvious but sometimes it is unclear what is classed as voluntary work. Any form of employment that is intended to help a charity can be unpaid. Simply labelling a work experience placement or internship as “voluntary” is not enough to make it a voluntary placement.

What Counts as Voluntary Work

When an individual is not expected to carry out any work (although they may if they wish to) and will not receive any form of punishment if they do not complete tasks or attend during certain hours.


If the placement only involves shadowing then the employer does not need to pay any wage. As long as the person participating does not complete any actual tasks then they can be legally unpaid.

Sandwich Course

There is an exemption under the National Minimum Wage legislation for students who complete a sandwich course where they gain work experience for less than a year between their course. They are not legally required to be paid if the placement is less than 1 year and are legally required to be paid if the placement exceeds 1 year.

This is intended as a very general guide to the law regarding internships and should not solely be relied upon when hiring an intern. Employment law is a very complicated area so if you would like to seek advice or have any questions please contact Lanshaw Solicitors on 01159 985245.