Full-time student, part-time worker? Know your employment rights

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:39

From wages to tax to rules for international students, we explain the rights and responsibilities that will make your part-time job a beneficial and hassle-free experience.

Coffee shop barista: know your rights for doing part-time work while studying

It's true that taking on a part-time job while studying at university can boost your bank balance and your skills in the workplace. However, it’s also the case that things can get stressful if you don’t know your rights and responsibilities around pay, tax and the law. We’ve answered some common questions about working while studying to help you build your knowledge of the basics.

Our guide to your rights as a part-time worker includes:

  1. How many hours can you work as a student (home and international)?
  2. What rights do you have as a student part-time worker?
  3. Are you entitled to breaks at work if you’re a student?
  4. What’s the national minimum wage for students?
  5. Do student part-time workers pay tax?
  6. What’s a zero-hours contract?
  7. What are your rights as a gig economy worker?
  8. Where can you get more advice on your employment rights?
  9. What are my rights if you are self-employed?
  10. Can you tell me more about whether international students work part time?

Note: this article covers employment law in England, Scotland and Wales. The Northern Ireland Assembly determines employment law in Northern Ireland, and your rights there are slightly different.

How many hours can I work as a student?

This depends on several factors.

  • If you’re a ‘home’ student (ie you don’t need a visa to study), from a legal point of view you can work as many hours as you like. However, many universities advise you not to take on more than 20 hours of part-time work a week as this can affect your studies.
  • If you have a student visa (this used to be called a Tier 4 visa) and are studying an undergraduate course, you can work up to 20 hours a week during term time and full time during vacations.
  • If you’re an international taught postgraduate student, you can work up to 20 hours a week in term time. You can also work full time during the Christmas and Easter vacations, but the summer break is considered part of your studies, so you can’t work full time until your course has officially ended.
  • International postgraduate research students can work up to 20 hours a week. You won’t have vacations as undergraduates and taught postgraduates do, so, if you want to work more than 20 hours a week, you’ll need to take annual leave and agree your work arrangements with your supervisor.

There’s more guidance on part-time work for international students below .

What rights do I have as a part-time student worker?

In general, if you’re a student who works for an organisation (as opposed to being self-employed), you must be treated the same as comparable full-time workers; that is, workers on the same type of contract with the same employer. This means you’re entitled to the same rate of pay, benefits, holidays, union membership and promotion opportunities as your colleagues (although pay, benefits and similar can be pro rata, ie proportionate to the number of hours you work). You have this right from day one of your employment.

You’re entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year pro rata – so 5.6 times your weekly working hours.

There’s more information about self-employment below .

Am I entitled to breaks at work if I’m a student?

If you work more than six hours a day, you’re entitled to one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break. Your employer can tell you when to take your break and it should be at some point during your working hours, not at the start or end of the day. You’re entitled to spend your break away from your workspace (eg your desk). However, your break doesn’t have to be paid: this depends on what your contract says.

Regardless of how many hours you work, you’re entitled to 11 hours’ rest between working days. For example. if you finish work at 8pm, you shouldn’t start work again until 7am the next day. You’re also entitled to either an uninterrupted 24 hours without work each week or 48 hours per fortnight.

You can’t work for more than an average of 48 hours a week (although you can agree with your employer to work longer hours with a written agreement that you’ve signed – you might hear this referred to as ‘opting out of working time regulations’).

What's the national minimum wage for students?

If you’re an employee (ie not self-employed), the minimum you can be paid (national minimum wage) is the same for students as for everyone else. It also often applies if you’re doing a work placement or internship: find out more about the law on unpaid internships .

National minimum wage from April 2022

  • Rate for those aged 23 and over: £9.50 (this is also known as the national living wage)
  • Rate for those aged 21 to 22: £9.18
  • Rate for those aged 18 to 20: £6.83
  • Rate for those aged under 18: £4.81

Note: these rates do not apply to apprentices.

The national minimum wage changes every year in April. The rates for 2023 are currently being reviewed.

Do part-time student workers pay tax?

University students aren’t exempt from tax; you need to pay income tax and national insurance just as other people do, even on part-time jobs. However, you’ll only pay income tax if you earn more than £1,042 a month on average and national insurance if you earn more than £190 a week.

If you’re employed by an organisation, your taxes will usually be deducted for you on a pay-as-you-earn basis ( scroll down for guidance on tax if you’re self-employed ). If you pay too much tax you can claim a refund from HMRC – ask for advice at your student union or advice centre if you’re not clear how to do this.

You won’t pay tax on all of your earnings – just the amount over your personal tax allowance (£12,570 until April 2023) for the tax year. Student grants, student loans, housing benefits and most scholarships and research awards are not taxed and don’t count towards your personal tax allowance.

If you work overseas and you’re a UK national, you will need to pay income tax and, if you’re working for a UK company, national insurance. If you work for an overseas employer you won’t pay national insurance but you might need to pay local taxes instead.

What’s a zero-hour contract?

In general, zero-hour contracts (also known as casual contracts) only pay you for the hours you work. There’s no onus on the employer to guarantee a set number of hours and no onus on you to accept the work, and employers can’t insist you work exclusively for them. Many employers use zero-hour contracts to ensure they have staff available to work at short notice.

Zero-hour workers are entitled to the same minimum wage and working time regulations as other employees. You’ll usually pay tax as you earn, in the same way as other employees. On day one of your contract, you’ll get a statement detailing your leave entitlement and pay (including sickness pay).

What rights do I have if I’m a gig worker?

The ‘gig’ economy is the name for the market of short-term and freelance work, usually accessed through an app, offered by organisations such as Amazon Flex, Getir and Evri. Working as part of the gig economy is similar to a zero-hours contract in that you have no obligation to accept work and no guarantee of work being offered to you. However, gig workers are typically paid for performing a specific job (eg delivering a parcel or transporting a customer from one place to another) instead of on an hourly rate.

The law on gig workers’ rights and status is evolving alongside the market for gig work. This means it isn’t always consistent or as you might expect. For example, many gig workers are considered self-employed, but since a legal case in 2016, Uber drivers have been classed as ‘workers’ and therefore have some rights (such as the national living wage and holiday pay).

The pandemic led to an increase in gig work it’s likely that more guidance will be issued on gig workers’ rights and employment status.

Where can I get more advice on my employment rights?

Seek advice from your university, your students’ union or Citizens Advice before signing a contract if you’re unclear about any of the wording or what you’re agreeing to. Before signing any contract, be clear with the employer about when you have fixed commitments such as lecture hours. Contracts are legally binding so once you’ve signed, you’re obliged to do the work you’ve agreed to.

Your university’s advice services or union, along with Citizens Advice and ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), can also help you if you have problems at work or need help getting what you’re legally entitled to.

I’m self-employed. What are my rights?

If you’re self-employed, you’re not entitled to be paid the minimum wage and don’t have the same rights as employees to holiday and breaks. You’ll also need to make sure your taxes are paid by registering to fill a self-assessment tax return every year via HMRC.

Can international students work part time?

Full-time students on student visas and studying a level 6 qualification (equivalent to a bachelors degree, a graduate diploma or PGCE) can work up to 20 hours a week during term time. You can only work full time in university vacations or if your course involves a work placement. Your work must be temporary, not permanent, and you can’t set up your own business or be self-employed.

Not all international students on student visas will be able to work, as this can depend on your sponsoring institution and other factors. It’s crucial that you check that working while studying won’t contravene the conditions of your visa, as this could affect your ability to get a UK visa in the future. Check with your university’s advice service for more information.

Read our article on visas and permits for international students looking for work for more advice.

This article was last updated in September 2022.

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This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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