All employees or ‘workers’ (see Determining Employment Status above) are entitled to the national minimum wage. It is illegal to pay any employee or ‘worker’ less than this amount.
There are four rates of the national minimum wage: (i) for people less than 18, (ii) for people between 18 and 20; (iii) for people 21 year or older; and (iv) apprentices. The current standard rate (as from October 2013) for employees and workers aged 21 and over is £6.31 per hour.
Work experience students are not subject to national minimum wage rules provided that they are undertaking their placement as part of a UK-based higher or further education course and the placement lasts for less than 12 months. Genuine volunteers (i.e. those who are not contractually obliged to carry out work) are also not subject to the national minimum wage.
Avoidance of the national minimum wage has become a topical issue recently and HMRC has begun to investigate companies that appear to exploit interns or individuals on work experience. Given the prevalence of interns and unpaid workers in the media industry, it may become an important consideration when recruiting for a production.
Where HMRC considers that the national minimum wage has not been complied with (either by workers being paid too little or not at all), the employer could be ordered to pay arrears (plus interest) and penalties. It can also lead to scrutiny from HMRC in other financial affairs.