Do you work as an unpaid intern for an MP or a political organisation - should you be paid? Mark Watson offers some straightforward answers to the basic questions, in this article: Claiming your pay

Should I be getting paid?

The simple answer is yes, in many cases you should. The Minimum Wage regulations stipulate that all workers should be paid at least the legal minimum for the work they do, unless specifically excepted.

The Minimum Wage is currently £6.08 per hour (adult rate) – that is the legal minimum. So if you have done 3 months work (40 hours a week) you should have been paid around £3160.

But I’m an intern – they don’t have to be paid do they?

Firstly it makes absolutely no difference what you are called in terms of whether you should be paid or not. “Intern” has no meaning under the Minimum Wage regulations and “work experience” can only be used as an exception to the regulations where it involves a full time student on a placement which is a required part of their studies ie that they need to undertake it, or something like it, to pass their course. If you are not a student, or you are one and are doing this “internship” outside your studies (eg during the holidays), then you cannot legally be unpaid just because it is called “work experience”. If your internship is for a charity or an associated body then that is an exception under the regulations and you need not be paid. MPs do not fall into that category.

How do I know whether I should be paid or not?

This all depends on what you do and the way you are treated. If you are treated like a worker, then you should be paid as one, whatever they call you. So if, for example, you are given set hours that you are expected to attend, or specific work that you are expected to do then it is likely that you should be paid. Similarly if you are relied on to do work that, if you or another intern did not do it, would have to be done by a paid employee then you should be paid. It makes no difference that you do not have a written contract, a worker/employer contract can come about purely as a result of the way you are treated, it can be entirely unspoken and still apply.

When it comes to decide whether you should be paid or not there is no one defining rule, it all depends on the circumstances. In essence however if this internship is not primarily a shadowing, training experience and is more like “experience through work” then it is very likely that you should be paid.

But I agreed not to be paid

It makes absolutely no difference whether you knew you would be unpaid when you did this work or not, nor whether you agreed to it. You cannot give away your right to be paid the legal minimum any more than the employer can deprive you of it. If you are a worker, you must be paid.

I was an intern a long time ago – can I still claim?

You can take a complaint about unpaid wages to HMRC at any time and they may take it up, there is no time limit. However if it is to go to a tribunal then you need to make a claim within three months.

What should I do next?

You can drop me a line and ask for advice. in your own name or anonymously. I have helped many people on work experience to apply for the pay they should have been receiving for their work and I’d be more than happy to help you, whether you chose to go through with a claim or not. You can give me as much or as little detail as you like about your situation and ask me any question you like. Oh and in case you were wondering, I don’t charge anything; you’ve lost out on enough money already you don’t want to get any poorer!

My email address is derrywatson(at)gmail(dot)com. I’ve seen enough young people lose out on the pay they should be getting and I want to stop it happening to any more. Feel free to drop me a line at any time.

Mark Watson leads a campaign to secure the Minimum Wage for interns in situations where they are simply being used as unpaid workers. He was part of a group of freelance TV workers that helped bring about new official work experience guidelines in TV and Film and has helped many young people in this and other industries to make successful Minimum Wage claims. He has put together this guide to answer some of the more common questions about internships and the Minimum Wage.

12 Responses to “Claim”

  1. 1 Jenelle 05/17/2011 at 11:07 pm

    I’m just about to graduate from a London university and have been offered an internship in Berlin for the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (non-profit, non-gov). This is for 3 months and there is no money, not even expenses covered. I’m a independent student who is the sole financial provider for myself and have struggled just supporting myself in London through uni, I doubt I will be able to support myself. Ive tried numerous avenues through my university, my local MPs and various organisation in the hope I may secure funding but so far no avail. Ive explained this to the institute but they havent offered anything yet. I just wondered if there was any charities etc. which help students from low incomes out? or if there was any legal basis.


  2. 2 anon 06/02/2011 at 9:06 pm

    I worked for 2 months for a company in London as a UNPAID intern like many others.

    It may be illegal- but so many companies still do it- just go on total jobs/ gumtree/reed/inspiring interns.

    We need a site to name and shame these companies

    • 3 internsanonymous 06/02/2011 at 9:46 pm

      hello! feel free to name and shame here…get in touch! But also now is a great time to claim- NUJ have been succesful and intern aware are looking for more test cases- and I would ve very very happy to help you- get in touch

      Thanks, Rosy x

  3. 4 veronica 07/22/2011 at 10:52 am

    Do not go and work at the ICD! I spent a horrific week there in 2009, before packing up and becoming a nanny for 2 months; which gained me better experience than I could have hoped for the ICD. They have about 5 full-time members of staff and around 50 interns, who are used for mass copying and pasting work. There is so little space you often don’t have a desk, but have to sit in the corridor with your laptop balanced on your lap. If you copy and paste diligently for 3 months you are offered another 3 months completely unpaid, maybe doing some minor event organisation. I cannot dissuade you strongly enough from doing this internship.

  4. 5 natasha 07/27/2011 at 5:47 am

    Duncan Lewis Solicitors in London is a crap company. Oh, and Peter Gardner from Lyndhurst is a pedo, that had a go at me…

  5. 6 Eva 08/07/2011 at 1:20 pm

    Can you please clarify when and when not charities can use unpaid interns. At the moment only the rich can afford to get their dream job with charities as I can’t afford to work unpaid for a year +
    The intern system is very unfair it contributes more to the class system then university fees, because I can borrow money to help me throuhg university but no one is going to lend me money so I can work for free for a year.
    And if I can’t work for free for a year then there is absolutely no point in me studying at all as without the experience I will not get a job in my dream profession.
    Also an American invention of uying internships in auctions a rumoured to ecoming over here. How can we stop this abomination?

  6. 7 Anne 11/10/2011 at 3:19 pm

    My daughter has worked as an “intern” for a number of years on cutting edge fashion magazines, always with the promise that the internship would lead to better things. So far, I can see no evidence of that. We’re certainly not rich and she works in a bar all weekend just to pay her rent. This is the truth about many interns. She’s now working on a magazine with a hugely wealthy backer, has a name credit inside the magazine, and is still not paid, even though she’s asked. The reality for interns is that if they make a fuss or even issue a claim under the Working Time Regulations, their career is finished.

  7. 8 Vicky 12/09/2011 at 12:48 pm

    I have completed 3 unpaid internships in the music industry. The first 2 I completed were internships, plain and simple there was no pressure on my time, I made tea & coffee, oversaw the post and scanned magazine clippings, got to shadow existing members of staff. The third internship I completed was a real eye opener - the company was basically run by interns. We had strict working hours, got shouted at if we were late and it was frowned upon to leave on time! We were expected to complete the same work load as paid workers. I worked evenings and weekends in a bar to pay my rent and this was also frowned upon as the person I was working for deemed it to be a conflict of interests! I was eventually given a paid position with the company but the pay was inadequate for the hours expected of us. I was brainwashed into believing that I was lucky to have the job I had and stuck it out for a lot longer than I should have. It’s about time that interns got some protection from the government.

  8. 9 m mm 12/18/2011 at 2:59 am

    Applied for a fashion intern , they said they would pay for my travel expenses. They made the expenses pill up and then told me they didnt have the money to give me and would be in touch. What is wrong with these people. I’m a student and cant afford to be out of pocket. It was crap and I didnt learn anything. How do I get my expenses back- I signed a contract ?

  9. 10 C 02/23/2012 at 5:20 pm

    I am working for a company that is full of interns.. 6 months contract… no permant contract and no exspenses paid..

  1. 1 Surviving Unpaid Internships Trackback on 05/31/2011 at 4:47 pm
  2. 2 5 Things To Do If You Love/Hate Internships! - Peasoup Magazine Trackback on 02/02/2012 at 6:04 pm

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