So I’ve talked about why the current unpaid internships debate is wrong-headed. But did you know that you might be able to claim back money from past internships?
Welcome to the little-known but rather amazing world of #dogsbodyrebates.
By complaining to HMRC, you could get “back pay” for the length of your internship. If you can prove that you were treated as a worker during your internship, you will receive the national minimum wage per hour you worked.
Now, I’m not saying that you’ll get the money in a flash. Sources who have been the process and helped others say it isn’t straightforward. HMRC may tell you, initially, that you don’t qualify but if you persevere and provide what evidence you can, you will eventually get your dosh.
This could be £800 – £900 if you worked average hours over a month for nothing, and at least £2500 if you did an unpaid internship for three months.
These are rough numbers that are based on the national minimum wage paid to 18 – 20 year olds. The real number would depend on how old you were when you took the job and therefore what wage bracket you fell into. But the good news is that the wages owed are calculated on TODAY’S minimum wage, which went up earlier this year. Nice one.
Critically, you are entitled to make a complaint even in these circumstances:
- you agreed to work for nothing at the time. You cannot legally waive your right to be paid the minimum wage, so it doesn’t matter what was agreed at the time.
- there was no written contract issued. A contract to provide work can be oral or implied, not just written.
- your internship ended several years ago. The time limit on making complaints is six years, so you can still make a claim about an internship from your late teens/early twenties if you fall within that window.
- you were promised paid work at the end of your internship. Whether this actually happened or not is irrelevant. The promise of paid work is a “reward” for your work, which denotes that the company was treating you like a employee.
- you received travel expenses. Unless you were regarded as a “volunteer”, the payment of expenses is not regarded as the same as a legal wage. Even if you pocketed the travel expenses and were able to walk to work, any financial gain from expenses would be immaterial – in fact, this would be proof that your expenses were being treated as a de facto salary.
- you were described as a “volunteer” in your role. While volunteers may not have a case, that is only if the role conforms to all genuine characteristics of a voluntary placement. These include the ability to turn up or not turn up as you please, a mutual agreement to provide services for no financial reward (which includes access to contacts and prospect of paid work) and the absence of any contract (written, oral or implied). Limited expenses can be provided legally for volunteers without straying into worker territory, but your case may be borderline, so it is worth checking with HMRC if you’re in any doubt or calling the Acas helpline for confidential advice on 0300 123 1100.
Here are some further tips:
- When going through the HMRC process, be prepared for knock-backs but don’t let these deter you. HMRC may say you were self-employed or that you agreed to be a volunteer prior to taking the unpaid role, but stick to your guns and keep going back with the evidence that shows you weren’t. I hear that HMRC frequently backs down in the face of persistent claims, and once you get over the initial hurdles, much of the work then happens behind-the-scenes and you don’t have to get involved.
- Be patient. HMRC can take anywhere between a few months and 2 years to get the money to you, depending on how complex your case is. You might not hear from HMRC for ages and then out of the blue, your dogsbody rebate arrives.
- If you are currently in an unpaid internship, talk to your employer. It may be that once you start talking about the legal definition of “workers”, that’ll be enough to put the frighteners under your boss and pave the way for a fairer deal. By requesting the minimum wage for your age bracket, you will also show that you know your rights and may be inclined to take your complaint further if you aren’t allowed to resolve it the nice way.
- This is a delicate and understandably stressful situation for any newbie worker. But take heart from the fact that you’re in the right – legally, morally and practically. Any business that believes it has to break the law and underpay workers in order to survive is not one you want to be working for in the long-term. There ARE paid internships out there and whilst they may be competitive, they may also be the ones worth having.
- The campaigning organisation Intern Aware might be able to help you through the HMRC complaints procedure, so get in touch with them on Twitter. The website Graduate Fog is also a good shout for general guidance and a possible avenue to publicise any mistreatment as a last resort. Joining your industry union is also a very canny move at the beginning of your career anyway and your union rep can also support you in any HMRC claim.
- If you see an employer advertising an unpaid internship, report to HMRC and show the likes of Intern Aware, Graduate Fog and of course the Young Money Blog, who will all be able to name and shame the employers on a wider scale. This has proved highly effective in getting companies to back down and benefits everyone in the end.
Read more at https://checkyourpay.campaign.gov.uk/#WCCWP5GEkRsrA5IH.99