Proposed ban on unpaid internships

The House of Lords will debate a Private Member’s Bill which proposes to amend the law by prohibiting unpaid work experience or internships exceeding four weeks.

The Bill was given its first reading in June and the second reading will take place today (27th October 2017).

Previous attempts to ban unpaid internships have not been successful, but a recent survey has shown that there is a strong public appetite to implement such a ban. According to research conducted by the Social Mobility Commission, out of the nearly 5000 people surveyed, 72% of the public back the ban, with 42% strongly supporting it.

So what’s the problem with unpaid internships?

Lord Holmes of Richmond sums up concerns about unpaid internships. He says ‘Unpaid internships leave young people in a catch-22 situation; unable to get a job because they haven’t got experience and unable to get experience because they can’t afford to work for free. The practice is clearly discriminatory, crushes creativity and competitiveness and holds individuals and our country back.’

Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, comments ‘Internships are the new rung on the career ladder. They have become a route to a good professional job. But access to them tends to depend on who, not what you know and young people from low-income backgrounds are excluded because they are unpaid. They miss out on a great career opportunity and employers miss out from a wider pool of talent’.

What does the law say?

An intern’s rights depend on what their employment status is. Many interns fall under the definition of ‘worker’ under national minimum wage legislation and as such are entitled to the National Minimum or Living Wage. However, it is argued that it is not being enforced effectively and many companies are exploiting the loophole or are not aware of the legal requirement to pay interns.

The recent Taylor Review  looking at modern working practices rejected calls for an ‘intern’ status in employment law and recommended that that the government should ‘ensure that exploitative unpaid internships, which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out. The government should do this by clarifying the interpretation of the law and encouraging enforcement action taken by HMRC in this area.’

Are you concerned about your organisation’s internships and placements?

If you have any questions or concerns, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can provide you with guidance and advice.

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