HMRC investigating firms for using unpaid interns
The UK Employment Relations Minister, Jo Swinson, has given HMRC a list of 100 companies accused of using unpaid interns.
The list, compiled by campaigning group Intern Aware, suggests that those ‘interns’ are in fact workers and should therefore be paid the national minimum wage.
The firms, which have not been publicly identified, and are understood to include a number of household names, were passed to the minister after a meeting she had with Intern Aware, which campaigns against the abuse of the internship process.
While companies are free to offer work experience, where the clear intention is to result in a full time job, companies are breaking employment laws if they do not pay at least the minimum wage.
An area currently under investigation is the use of long-term, unpaid positions as an entry point to popular professions. Apart from being illegal, this effectively excludes those without well-off parents or other means to support them.
In recent months, there is renewed political will to investigate these issues and naming and shaming companies found to be flouting the minimum wage requirements is thought to be as effective as the threat of fines.
HMRC can order employers to repay wage arrears and impose additional penalties of up to 50% of the total underpayment of all relevant workers up to a maximum of £5,000.Employers are therefore advised to carefully review any existing and future arrangements with interns to limit these risks.
Ben Lyons said he co-founded Intern Aware as a way of tackling inequality. “We set it up at university because we were angry at seeing friends of ours, who were bright and hardworking, being priced out of professions because they couldn’t afford to work for free. It’s not just that they’re wrong, but lots of these companies are breaking the law.”