Interns and work experience – to pay or not to pay?

Jun 12, 2023 | Terms and Conditions

With the Summer holidays approaching fast, you may be considering employing or bringing in work experience or intern workers to your business. Internships are sometimes called work placements or work experience, but in reality, these terms have no legal status on their own.

Traditionally an ‘internship’ might well have been unpaid, and these were used a lot in particular sectors, but did you know that the law surrounding the National Minimum Wage may apply to these types of workers?

In fact, interns or work experience workers are generally entitled to receive the NMW unless they fall under specific exemptions, as follows:

Education-based internships

If your intern is doing their placement as part of a UK based further or higher education course, for less than one year, they will not be entitled to National Minimum Wage. The work must be related to their course, so if they are taking a gap year or similar and are working for you during that time doing a job that isn’t related to their studies, they will need payment.

School-aged work experience

Young people who are still of compulsory school age doing work experience for you are not entitled to minimum wage, although if they are still in full time education but are over compulsory school age, they will need to be paid at the appropriate rate.

Work shadowing

Work shadowing is where the individual is only observing while working with an employee, but no actual work is being carried out by them.

If that is the case they are not entitled to minimum wage, however it’s important to be careful that work shadowing arrangements do not ‘drift’ into the individual performing work themselves.


Voluntary workers are also not entitled to minimum wage, however it is only lawful to engage individuals as voluntary workers if you are a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund-raising body or statutory body. If you are not one of these, you cannot label someone a volunteer, even with their consent, and avoid minimum wage obligations.

Getting employment status right

As well as minimum wage, interns or work experience workers might also have the other rights of either an employee or a worker such as working hours, rest breaks and statutory holiday entitlement, so it is important that terms are agreed and clarified beforehand by determining their role and nature of the engagement.

This means that their employment status must be established to confirm whether they are a worker, a volunteer or an employee. The other factor to consider is statutory holiday entitlement. It is perfectly acceptable to offer statutory holiday entitlement to these types of workers as long as accurate records are kept similar to how your regular employees’ data is held.

Age category

Don’t forget to check the age category for the work experience or intern,as the NMW rates vary based on the individual’s age, with different rates for ages 16-17, 18-20 and 21-22. Make a note of the correct rate applicable to your intern or work experience worker, and check that the pay they are receiving meets or exceeds the applicable rate based on their age. This also means checking deductions for accommodation or meals.

All of the above are important points to consider when hiring for an intern or work experience. Gone are the days where interns work for ‘free’ in exchange for a free lunch and learning how a business works. Bringing in a work experience or intern has great benefits to a small business which include the worker being able to experience a positive work environment and even in some cases a potential permanent job offer in the future.

It’s worth taking time to consider all of the above before offering internships or work experience but if you’d like some guidance or support on this topic, do get in touch.