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Getting paid less than minimum wage or living wage

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

National Living Wage is the highest band of the National Minimum Wage which you should get if you're 25 or over.

Most people who work are entitled to get paid at least the National Minimum Wage. This includes casual workers, people on zero hours contracts and agency workers.

There is also a higher rate called the National Living Wage. You should be paid this if you’re 25 or older and you’re entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

Your employer can’t fire you or alter your work to get around the National Living Wage. For example, they can’t take work that you've been doing away from you and give it to someone under 25 to avoid having to increase your wage. If you think your employer has changed your job to get around the minimum wage, it's worth getting advice.

Find out whether you’re entitled to the minimum wage or living wage

You’re not entitled to the minimum wage if you’re any of the following:

  • self-employed - bear in mind that you might think you're 'self-employed' when in fact you're a 'worker' entitled to minimum wage (it’s always best to check whether this applies to you and get advice if you’re not sure)
  • under 16
  • living and working with a family as an au pair or nanny, and not paying towards your accommodation or meals
  • in the armed forces
  • a volunteer or doing work experience
  • a prisoner
  • some trainees and interns (however, the eligibility rules are complicated so you should get advice)
  • some farm workers (check if minimum wage applies to you at nidirect)

If you’re not sure whether you fall into any of these categories, you can check if you’re entitled to minimum wage using the TUC’s checker - or call the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) helpline.

LRA helpline
Telephone: 028 9032 1442
Open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Check if you’re getting minimum wage or living wage

If you’re entitled to the minimum wage, the amount you should get depends on your age and whether you’re an apprentice.

These are the National Minimum Wage rates:

About you Name of wage Hourly rate (before tax)
Age 25 or over National Living Wage £7.83
Age 21-24 National Minimum Wage £7.38
Age 18-20 National Minimum Wage £5.90
Age 16-17 National Minimum Wage £4.20
Apprentices aged 16-18 or first-year apprentices if you're 19 or over National Minimum Wage £3.70

You can use the National Minimum Wage calculator on GOV.UK to check whether you’re actually getting it. If you’re getting less than minimum wage, the calculator will tell you how much your employer owes you.

The rules are slightly tricky (and you should get advice) if:

  • you’re not paid for time travelling on business, eg between appointments
  • you haven’t been paid for time spent on a training course
  • you’re not paid for time ‘on call’
  • your employer takes money from your wages for accommodation

Speak to your employer if you're not being paid the minimum wage or living wage

If you're not getting the minimum wage when you should be getting it, your employer owes you the difference between what you should have been paid and what they’ve actually been paying you.

Try having an informal chat with your employer. Ask them to explain how they’ve worked out your pay, and to tell you why they think you’re not entitled to be paid minimum wage - or why they think you’re already getting it.

You could print out your result from the National Minimum Wage calculator and show them it.

If your employer agrees they’ve made a genuine mistake, ask them to pay you what you’re owed immediately.

Your employer might say they give you benefits that ‘top up’ your pay rate to the minimum wage, eg they give you meals or you get to keep all your tips. You should ask for the wage instead - you’ve got the right to be paid minimum wage on top of any extra benefits like these.

If you’re not getting anywhere

If you need more help at any point, you can get advice from your local Citizens Advice.

Take the following steps:

Step 1: call the LRA helpline

If you haven’t already, call the LRA helpline on 028 9032 1442. They’ll confirm whether you’re entitled to minimum wage and help you work out your options.

Step 2: raise a grievance

Check if your employer has a formal grievance procedure you can use. Even if they haven’t, you can still raise a grievance - for example by writing a letter.

Explain why you think you haven’t been paid enough and say you want them to pay the difference. 

Step 3: take your employer to a tribunal

Your last resort is to take your employer to a tribunal - think carefully before you go ahead, as it could be expensive and stressful. You’ve got 3 months less a day to start a tribunal claim, starting from the date of the most recent underpayment.

Step 4: take your employer to court

In some cases you might be able to take your employer to court. You should only consider this if you don’t have the option of going to a tribunal, eg because you’re over the time limit. Get advice if this applies to you.

Report your employer to HM Revenue and Customs

Regardless of whether you raise a grievance with your employer, you can report them to HMRC. They’ll decide whether to investigate your employer - there’s no guarantee that they will, but they’re more likely to do so if several people who work for your employer make complaints.

It could take a long time, so it’s best not to rely on this as a way to get the money you’re owed - unless you can’t go to a tribunal.

Call the LRA helpline on 028 9032 1442 to report your employer. They’ll take details of your complaint and pass it on to HMRC.

You’re legally protected from unfair dismissal or other unfair treatment if you report your employer. In practice this may not stop your employer from treating you unfairly if they suspect you’ve reported them.

You can protect yourself by telling the LRA helpline you don’t want to be named when HMRC contacts your employer.

If HMRC finds your employer isn’t paying the minimum wage to people who are entitled to it, they’ll take steps to force them to do so.

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