Moneybox tackles unpaid interns rights

The rights of unpaid interns, first highlighted by the blog in November were aired today in Iona’s first in-show report for Moneybox, the BBC’s personal finance flagship programme.

The Radio 4 show also reported on car purchase plans, gradual retirement, and credit card surcharges.

Moneybox was able to reveal research due to be published soon by the Sutton Trust charity which has found the average unpaid intern has living costs of £1000 a month whilst working for nothing.

We heard typical job adverts such as one offering “a fantastic opportunity to gain some experience in the world of retail buying”.

Iona began: “These all sound like pretty attractive career opportunities to someone trying to break into the world of work, but there’s a catch. They are all descriptions of unpaid internships. So why are some young people deciding to work for nothing? I met Poppy – not her real name – in a bar in south London. She had been applying for jobs as a runner in the TV industry and getting nowhere.”

Poppy had applied for one job, the interview had gone well, and she had been offered the job – but then told it would be on a voluntary basis, with promise that she would be taught new skills.

“As it turned out, Poppy got no money and no real experience either.”

Conor Ryan of educational charity the Sutton Trust told Iona that regardless of employee rights, interns saw the prospect of a full-time job and didn’t want to make any trouble for themselves.

Iona: “The law says interns must be paid at least the national minimum wage if treated as a worker. It’s up to HMRC to enforce that. Once Poppy discovered this, she took the bold step of making a claim to HMRC.”

Poppy described the response as “polite but hostile”, and the process feeling like it was “designed to make you give up”, and said she had pursued it not for the few hundred pounds involved but on principle.

“The opportunity was dangled in front of me….I was promised a paid position but was treated quite badly and put under immense duress…it’s about the way you treat people at the bottom.”

HMRC told Moneybox they took all complaints seriously, and had sent e-mails to 300 employers reminding them of their obligations.

Presenter Adam Shaw then said Moneybox had learned that the number of former interns who had ever tried to get redress was only “in the low double digits”.

He then talked to Asher Dresner, co-founder of Howbox, a new  site for temps, freelancers, the self-employed, and anyone in the gig economy, who said: “Of the tens of thousands of unpaid interns I would not be surprised if most of them don’t know the right to be paid the minimum wage, especially in the creative sectors.”   He said the only exceptions were those under 16 or working for a charity or statutory body.

Adam said it appeared there was no incentive for companies to comply with the law, as even when they were called out they only had to pay the wages.

Iona says: “It’s also important for interns to know that even if they have signed a contract saying they agree to be unpaid, their rights are not affected in any way.”


Today’s show covered disputes over PCP (personal contract purchase) car finance plans, where lenders tried to impose extra charges where cars were surrendered with extra mileage beyond that in the contract.

Consumer credit lawyer Paul Tilley of Howlett Clarke in Brighton said there was nothing in law to suggest that borrowers ought to pay up. Money Advice Service says no extra charges are enforceable as long as “reasonable care” has been taken of the car.

In a discussion on gradual or part-time retirement, Sarah Bickerstaff of the University of Kent said despite the good intentions, most people faced practical barriers to winding down their work gradually, especially those in more physical occupations and heavier industries who might most feel the benefit.

Moneybox readers have also revealed that companies are still trying to impose surcharges for the use of credit cards, despite new legislation which has outlawed them on personal cards for transactions since January 13.

Moneybox is repeated on Sunday at 9pm.

Applying to HMRC for your intern rights 

Moneybox website:


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