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National minimum wage

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Under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, employers are required by law to make sure that their workers over school-leaving age are paid at least the minimum wage, while people over the age of 25 are entitled to the national living wage. Current minimum and living wage rates are available from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Workers and HMRC officers can tell employers to show evidence that they’ve paid the national minimum wage. If they don’t do this, the worker can bring a case to an employment tribunal.

The act includes a section called voluntary workers. People working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fundraising body or a statutory body are not entitled to the minimum wage if the only money they receive is for actual expenses, and they receive no benefits other than training to improve their ability to do their work and/or (non-monetary) subsistence (such as food) or such accommodation as is reasonable in the circumstances.

In highly specific circumstances where a voluntary worker is placed by a charity with another charity or similar body, subsistence (but not accommodation) may be paid as money without the voluntary worker becoming entitled to the minimum wage.

This means that residential voluntary workers getting ‘pocket money’ at one organisation may be entitled to the minimum wage, while other volunteers with identical working conditions will not because they have been placed in their role by another organisation.

What are the consequences if a volunteer is found to be eligible for the minimum wage?

If an organisation has volunteers who are being treated as workers, they will be entitled to the minimum wage, and the organisation may have to pay volunteers backdated wages.

It may also have to pay fines for criminal offences such as not paying the minimum wage and falsifying records.

If a volunteer thinks that they aren’t getting the minimum wage, they have two options.

Ask in writing to see their pay records

These must be produced within 14 days, unless the individual agrees otherwise. If the records are not produced, or the individual is not being paid the minimum wage, they can take the complaint to an employment tribunal. The volunteer would then have to show that they are a worker and not a volunteer.

If the tribunal agrees, they will receive the minimum wage backdated as far back as 1 April 1999 (when the act came into force), or the start of their contract, whichever is later. If this is not done within 14 days, the organisation will have to pay substantial compensation to the individual.

Contact HMRC

Minimum wage compliance officers have different ways to make sure the minimum wage is paid.

They can:

  • tell workers and employers to show pay records
  • enter premises to interview employers
  • tell employers to attend HMRC offices.

If the compliance officers believe that workers are not being paid the minimum wage, they can tell the employer to start paying the minimum wage and backdate the payments as far as 1 April 1999.

Compliance officers do not have to be approached by workers; they can investigate any organisation where they believe the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 has been broken.

Last reviewed: 19 July 2022

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 19 July 2022

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