Kate Brooks
Partner, Solicitor & Head of Employment/HR Services
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Date Published:23 Oct 2017 Last Updated:25 Oct 2021

Should unpaid internships be unlawful?

Employment Law Advice

Social Mobility Commission’s recent survey confirms that a majority of people surveyed are in favour of a ban on unpaid internships.

A new report, released by the Social Mobility Commission, found that 72% of the public back a change in the law – with 42% ‘strongly supporting’ a ban. 80% of people also believed that work experience and internships should be formally and openly advertised. This comes after MPs called for a ban on unpaid internships in January.

Even without a change to the law, employers should be aware that just because a role is given a label of “unpaid internship” or
“volunteer” does not necessarily mean that the individual is not entitled to national minimum wage. If a person is in reality a worker, they will be entitled to receive national minimum wage. There are some exceptions e.g. work placements of less than one year as part of a university course.

The following are some recent examples of unpaid internships found to be unlawful:

Film production business engaged an intern on an expenses only basis. Expenses were paid. It was found by employment tribunal that national minimum wage was due to be paid.

Intern at a publishing company who was responsible for a team of writers, and hiring new interns was found to be a worker and entitled to national minimum wage or holiday.

For questions about engaging interns or the risk of a national minimum wage claim, do not hesitate to contact our employment law advice team on 01202 525333, or alternatively send an email enquiry.