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

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.

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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.

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.

Your experience of finding and doing part-time work will likely have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re unsure of how the job hunting process might have changed or are looking for alternative ways to grow your CV, take a look at our advice here .

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

Students who work part-time are legally entitled to be treated the same as comparable full-time workers; that is, workers on the same type of contract with the same employer. This is a right you have from day one of your employment. It means you’re entitled to the same rate of pay, benefits, holidays and promotion opportunities as your full-time colleagues (although pay, benefits and similar can be pro rata, ie proportionate to the number of hours you work).

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

What's the national minimum wage for students?

The minimum you can be paid (national minimum wage) is the same for students as for everyone else. The national minimum wage changes every year in April.

National minimum wage from April 2021

  • for workers aged 23 and over: £8.91 per hour (this is the National Living Wage)
  • for workers aged 21 to 22: £8.36 per hour
  • for workers aged 18 to 20: £6.56 per hour
  • for workers aged under 18: £4.62 per hour.

National minimum wage from April 2022

  • Workers aged 23 and over: £9.50
  • Workers aged 21 to 22: £9.18
  • Workers aged 18 to 20: £6.83
  • Workers under 18: £4.81

Note: these rates do not apply to apprentices.

Am I entitled to breaks at work?

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 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).

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 Fiverr, Deliveroo and Hermes. 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 completing a project) 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 a 2016 ruled that UK Uber drivers are actually workers and therefore entitled to basic employment rights such as the minimum wage and holidays.

The pandemic led to many changes in the gig economy (more people needing purchases delivered as well as more people needing extra income from gig work) so it’s likely the law will continue to change.

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, 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.

How much tax do I need to pay?

University students aren’t exempt from tax; you need to pay income tax and national insurance just as other workers do, even on part-time jobs. You’ll pay income tax if you earn more than £1,042 a month on average and national insurance if you earn more than £184 a week. Your employer will usually deduct tax for you on a pay-as-you-earn basis; if you pay too much tax you can claim a refund from HMRC yourself.

You won’t pay tax on all of your earnings; just the amount over your personal tax allowance (£12,570 until April 2021) 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.

Can international students work part time in the UK?

Full-time students on student visas (previously called Tier 4 (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.

NB: This feature was last updated in December 2021.

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