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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Work experience, internships and the National Minimum Wage

Work experience and internships can be paid or unpaid, depending on the arrangements you have with your employer. Find out if you are entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage (NMW) when doing work experience or an internship.

What counts as work experience?

The term 'work experience' generally refers to a limited period of time that you spend with an employer.

Work experience can give you:

  • the opportunity to learn about working life and the working environment
  • the chance to try your hand at particular tasks
  • an opportunity to watch and learn

The nature, length and arrangements for work experience vary greatly.

What counts as an internship?

Work experience is sometimes referred to as a ‘placement’ or an ‘internship’.

Internships are often positions requiring a higher level of qualification than other forms of work experience, where you gain experience for a professional career. However, the term ‘intern’ has no legal status. If you are an intern you will be treated in the same way as someone doing work experience for NMW purposes.

Entitlement to the NMW during work experience

If you are doing work experience your entitlement to the National Minimum Wage (NMW) depends on the arrangements under which you are working.

One of the following categories will apply:

  • you are a worker and eligible for the NMW
  • you are a worker, but expressly exempt in the legislation and not eligible for the NMW
  • you are not a worker and therefore not eligible for the NMW

Entitlement to the NMW does not depend on your job title. For example you are not prevented from qualifying for the NMW by:

  • being called a work experience trainee, an unpaid intern or a volunteer
  • having your role in the business described as a placement or internship, or unpaid work

If you are entitled to the NMW, you cannot give up your entitlement even if you agree with your employer to be paid a wage below the NMW.

Find out if you are a worker who is entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage.

Work experience - who is exempt from the NMW

Almost all individuals who are workers in the UK are entitled to the NMW. The exceptions if you are doing work experience are:

Students doing work experience as part of a course

You may not be entitled to the NMW if both of the following apply:

  • you do work experience as part of a UK-based higher or further education course which qualifies in the legislation
  • your work experience placement does not exceed one year

However, this exemption does not cover you if you:

  • take on gap year work (so long as you are above compulsory school leaving age)
  • take on work or work experience which is not part of your course

Compulsory school age

If you are of compulsory school age and do work experience you are not entitled to the NMW.

Voluntary workers

Voluntary workers are specifically defined in NMW legislation and are not entitled to the NMW.

You will be a voluntary worker if you receive only limited and specific benefits such as reasonable travel or lunch expenses and work for:

  • a charity
  • a voluntary organisation
  • an associated fund raising body
  • a statutory body

In addition under the terms of your employment you are not entitled to:

  • any monetary payments other than for expenses incurred, or likely to be incurred, to enable you to perform your duties
  • any benefits in kind other than for subsistence or reasonable accommodation

Government and European programmes

If you participate in certain Government and European programmes you will not be entitled to the NMW for work you do as part of the programme.

Non-worker groups relevant to work experience

You may fall outside the definition of a worker, and not be entitled to the NMW. The following examples are particularly relevant to work experience.

Work shadowing

If you do a placement that does not involve any work being performed, such as watching, listening and questioning, you are not entitled to the NMW.


In general, you are a volunteer if:

  • you take on work for a particular organisation with no entitlement to financial reward or benefit, except out-of-pocket expenses
  • you do not have to turn up for work if you don't want to (even if people expect you to or you generally work to a regular pattern)

As a volunteer you will suffer no detriment (unfair treatment) if you fail to perform your services. The intention behind unpaid activity (whether to benefit the environment, other groups or you as an individual) is not relevant when determining your status.

You can find out more information about determining whether you are a volunteer.

Record keeping when on work experience

You should consider keeping records of agreements you make with your employer, the tasks you are asked to perform and the hours you work. This information can be used as evidence if it transpires that you are a worker who is eligible for the NMW.

Where to get help

For further advice or to make a complaint contact the Pay and Work Rights Helpline. Calls to the helpline are free and confidential or use the online enquiry or complaint form.

If you want, a complaint can be sent to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). HMRC investigates all complaints referred to them by the helpline and will take steps to ensure you cannot be identified.

HMRC investigates complaints dating back six years. If you left an internship in the last six years and have a query about your pay, it is worth contacting the Pay and Work Rights Helpline.

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