New figures from The Low Pay Commission reveal that up to 580,000 workers in the UK are earning below the National Minimum Wage, meaning that they are missing out on wages that they are legally entitled to.
If you work in a job where wages are typically low, such as in the retail or service industry, then it is essential that you understand the minimum wage and your rights to payment as an employee.
Here CashLady looks in more detail at the minimum wage, including the types of employment that it covers and what to do if you suspect that you are being paid less than you should be.
What is the National Minimum Wage?
Introduced in 1999, the National Minimum Wage was brought in to protect UK workers at the bottom end of the pay scale.
It stipulates how much money a worker should be paid per hour, depending on their age and whether they’re an apprentice.
The National Minimum Wage vs The National Living Wage
The National Minimum Wage is for workers who are at least school leaving age (last Friday in June of the school year they turn 16,) up to the age of 25.
Those who are over 25 are eligible for the National Living Wage, which pays a little more.
Minimum wage rates 2017/2018
Rates for the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage are set on April 1 every year. The current rates, depending on your age and whether you are an apprentice, are:
25 & over 21 to 24 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice
£7.50 £7.05 £5.60 £4.05 £3.50
Your employer and the minimum wage
Regardless of the size, your employer, failing to pay the minimum wage is a criminal offence.
The rates change every year in April, and so you should keep up to date with the current rates and check your payslip to ensure that you are being paid the correct hourly wage.
If you aren’t sure how much you earn per hour then use the salary/hourly rate calculator on the Government website here.
Employers that don’t pay the minimum wage
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers have the power to spot check your employer at any time, plus they may carry out an investigation if they receive a specific complaint from an employee about their employer, concerning the minimum wage.
If HMRC finds that an employer hasn’t been paying the correct rates, any arrears must be paid back immediately. Employers will also be fined and offenders may be publicly named by the government.
What jobs and workers are covered by the minimum wage?
The minimum wage doesn’t just apply to permanent workers in full-time employment. You are eligible if your work covers any of the below:
- casual labourers, for example, someone hired for one day
- agency workers
- workers and homeworkers paid by the number of items they make
- trainees, workers on probation
- disabled workers
- agricultural workers
- foreign workers
- offshore workers
Which workers are not covered by the minimum wage?
The following types of workers aren’t entitled to the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage:
- Self-employed people running their own business
- company directors
- volunteers or voluntary workers
- workers on a government employment programme, such as the Work Programme
- members of the armed forces
- family members of the employer living in the employer’s home
- non-family members living in the employer’s home who share in the work and leisure activities, are treated as one of the family and aren’t charged for meals or accommodation, for example, au pairs
- workers younger than school leaving age (usually 16)
- higher and further education students on a work placement up to 1 year
- workers on government pre-apprenticeships schemes
- people working on a Jobcentre Plus Work trial for 6 weeks
- share fishermen
- people living and working in a religious community
- work experience and internships
What to do if you think are you being paid below the minimum wage
If you believe that you are entitled to the minimum wage but aren’t receiving it, then there is lots of help and support available to you.
First, read the minimum wage guidelines on the Government website and then speak to your manager at work and explain why you think you have been underpaid.
If you have been underpaid then they are required by law to provide you with the correct back pay.
For further advice, contact Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service,) who provide free and impartial information to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.