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

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

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

Make sure you know your employment rights and what practicalities you need to deal with.

Taking on a part-time job while studying at university can boost your bank balance and your skills in the workplace. But to get the most out of the experience (and keep the taxman or taxwoman or taxperson happy), make sure you know your employment rights and what practicalities you need to deal with.

Part-time workers have full-time rights

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 enjoy from day one of your employment. These cover aspects such as pay, benefits, holidays and promotion opportunities (although pay, benefits and similar can be pro rata, ie proportionate to the number of hours you work).

What's the national minimum wage for students?

The minimum you can be paid (national minimum wage) is the same for students as for anyone else. National minimum wage rates are:

  • for workers aged 25 and over – £8.72 per hour (this is the National Living Wage)
  • for workers aged 21 to 24 – £8.20 per hour
  • for workers aged 18 to 20 – £6.45 per hour
  • for workers aged under 18 – £4.55 per hour.

These rates came into force in April 2020.

The working time regulations

As a part-time worker you are entitled to:

  • an interrupted in-work rest break of at least 20 minutes if the working day is longer than six hours (although whether this rest break is paid depends on your employment contract)
  • 11 hours’ rest between working days (between when your shift finishes and when a new one starts)
  • either an uninterrupted 24 hours without work each week or 48 hours per fortnight
  • a limit of an average 48-hour working week (although you can agree with your employer to work longer hours – this agreement must be in writing and signed by you)
  • a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year pro rata – so 5.6 times your weekly working hours.

How much can students earn before paying tax?

University students are not exempt from tax; they pay tax and national insurance just as other workers do, even on temp jobs. You will need to pay income tax if you earn more than £1,042 a month on average and national insurance if you earn more than £166 a week. As a UK national, if you work abroad you will also need to pay income tax and, if you are working for a UK company, national insurance.

You won’t pay tax on all of your earnings; just the amount over your personal tax allowance (£12,500) for the tax year. 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.

Student grants, student loans, housing benefits, and most scholarships and research awards are not taxed.

Can international students work part time in the UK?

Students who are on a tier 4 visa and studying a level 6 qualification (equivalent to a bachelors degree, a graduate diploma or PGCE) or a short-term study abroad programme can gain part-time employment in most jobs (there are exceptions) for up to 20 hours a week. Those studying a full-time course below level 6 (eg a foundation degree) that is sponsored by a UK recognised body or a body in receipt of public funding as a Higher Education Institution can work up to 10 hours a week in most jobs (again, there are exceptions). See GOV.UK for more information.

EU students have no restrictions on working in the UK until at least June 2021.

Students, zero-hour contracts and the gig economy

‘Zero hours’ has no legally accepted definition, but in general zero-hour contracts only pay you for the hours you work; there is, in principle, no onus on the employer to guarantee a set number of hours and no onus on you to accept the work. The work is often available at short notice. If you are on a zero-hour contract, it is illegal for employers to insist that you work exclusively for them.

Depending on the specifics of the zero-hours contract, you might be legally defined as an employee, as a worker or as self-employed. It’s best to seek advice from an organisation such as your university, your Students’ Union, Citizens Advice or your trade union before signing a contract if you are unsure of what you are agreeing to. This is because your employment rights differ according to how you are legally defined: for example, workers and employees have the right to be paid the national minimum wage, but those who are self-employed do not.

In December 2018, the government upgraded workers’ rights so that, among other things: on day one of their contract, workers receive a statement detailing leave entitlement and pay (including sickness); agency workers can’t be paid less than permanent staff in the same role; and holiday entitlement has to be calculated across 52 weeks of the year.

Before you sign a zero-hours contract, be clear with the employer about when you have fixed commitments – such as lecture hours.

NB: The minimum wage and tax information in this feature was last updated in April 2020; the rest of the feature was last updated in November 2019.