HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has stepped up action to stamp out ‘exploitive’ unpaid internships after a government review of working practices.
Over the past three months, HMRC have written to over 500 firms reminding them that for interns who are classed as workers, they are legally obliged to pay them at least the Minimum Wage, or the National Living Wage.
A ‘worker’ could be someone who has a contract or is subject to sanctions if they do not turn up for work, whereas genuine volunteers are not entitled to pay.
The Taylor Review, published in 2017, looked particularly closely at the ‘gig’ economy of part-time and flexible workers, much of which is comprised of students.
Campaigners claim that internships are often seen as a necessity for students prior to receiving a ‘real’ job, in order for them to show a level of experience in the workplace. However, the unrealistic consequences of working a full-time job for free often stop less-advantaged people from applying, putting them at further disadvantage.
Business minister Andrew Griffiths said: ‘Employing unpaid interns as workers to avoid paying the National Minimum Wage is against the law and exploitative.
‘No-one should feel like they have to work for free to get the skills and experience they need to get ahead.’
The Sutton Trust estimates that there are around 70,000 internships offered each year, and that 10,000 graduates are in internships six months after graduating. More than 40% of young people who have been on a placement have done so for free.
However, just hours before the government revealed the new plans, prominent Conservative minister Dominic Raab advertised an unpaid internship to support his constituency work. The advert offered work to ‘ideally suit a gap year student or recent school leaver’ for three to four days over a period of four to six months.
A Labour source said: ‘The timing couldn’t be more embarrassing. Presumably Dominic Raab hasn’t read the recommendations of the Taylor review yet.’
Rosa Smith, News Editor