It’s perhaps hardly news to hear that unpaid internships favour the rich, whereby mum or dad can foot the bill for living costs while their offspring gain real world experience in their chosen career, but that’s the headline findings of research by an education charity today.

What this article in the BBC does highlight is the continued use of unpaid internships and the confusion surrounding that.

Internship has no legal meaning whatsoever and employers wanting to offer such “opportunities” on an unpaid basis must ensure they are exempt from paying the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and not rely simply on using the title of “intern”.

It is clear in employment legislation that if the intern can be classified as a worker they are entitled to be paid the NMW. The tests that apply to deciding this include (but aren’t limited to):

1. does the post attract any kind of financial reward above and beyond genuine out of pocket expenses
2. does it come with the promise of future work
3. Does the intern have an obligation to turn up for work each day

There are specific instances in which an intern is not entitled to the NMW, for example if the placement is one of genuine “work experience” during a course of higher or further education, but we’d hazard a guess that many internships do not fall within those definitions.

Anecdotally, we know that many unpaid interns agree to work for free as they perceive it may be a way into a career (despite no such guarantees) and that to make a fuss about pay will “mark their card”.


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