HMRC has begun a crackdown on companies offering unpaid internships.
The Revenue has written to 200 firms that have recently advertised internships in order to check that they are complying with minimum wage legislation.
The move is the latest development in the ongoing fight over unpaid internships. Over the last year the government has come under increasing pressure from lobbying groups who maintain that unpaid internships often contravene National Minimum Wage laws. Nick Clegg recently rejected calls for a ban on unpaid internship adverts, but HMRC’s actions suggest that more direct enforcement is likely.
The minimum wage is set at £6.31 for those aged 21 and over, £5.03 for those aged between 18 and 20, and £3.72 for those aged under 18.
Employment relations minister Jo Swinson has been vocal in her criticism of unpaid internships this week, suggesting that the government will take “tough action” against employers who fail to comply with their legal obligations. “Anyone considered a worker under the law should be paid at least the minimum wage,” she said, “whether they are an intern or someone on work experience.”
In April HMRC revealed that it was set to investigate 100 companies after the campaign group Intern Aware passed on a list of firms it believed were breaking minimum wage legislation. A spokesperson told the Guardian at the time: “We set [the group] 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.”
Read more about internships and the law.