Not paying your interns? The taxman's on your case

The debate about unpaid work experience intensified on Friday, after it was revealed that the names of 100 companies running such schemes have been passed to HMRC to be investigated.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

The employment minister, Jo Swinson, obtained the list from Intern Aware, a campaign group that fights against unpaid work experience. The 100 companies on it are accused of illegally ‘employing’ people in what would otherwise be paid roles, for nothing.

In a letter to the campaign group, Swinson said: ‘I would like to take this opportunity to thank Intern Aware for their help and continues support on this issue. The list of employers that you provided will be treated as intelligence by HMRC. 

‘Intelligence forms part of the risk process by helping to indentify sectors where there is a high likelihood of non-compliance.’

So where do employers stand legally? Essentially, if you fill a full-time position (to which minimum wage rules would normally apply) with an intern, then you’re out of line. 

HMRC hasn’t commented on the story, but the Department for Business said: ‘The law on the National Minimum Wage is clear. If somebody on a work experience placement or internship is a worker under NMW legislation, then they are entitled to the minimum wage.’

There is of course the Pay and Work Rights Helpline that people who feel exploited can call, but the wider culture of unpaid work seems to be propagating increasingly widely.

If you’ve got any ‘full timers’ working for you without pay at the moment, HMRC could be onto you and you may be slapped with a fine…


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