How Old Do You Have to be to Work in the UK?

Children have a great deal more protections around ­working than adults. This is to keep them safe while still allowing them to earn an income.

Businesses – particularly smaller organisations – may not always pay sufficient attention to the rules surrounding children at work, so it can pay for you to know what the rules are.

So how old do you have to be to work in the UK?

Minimum legal age to work

The absolute minimum age for a child to be employed in the UK is 13 – as long as it’s only part-time work. But this doesn’t cover performance work, such as acting or modelling. In order to work in these industries, children will need a performance licence.

According to the government, performance licences are required for any child under school-leaving age and taking part in any:

  • film, play, concert or other public performance that the audience pays to see, or that take place on licensed premises
  • sporting events or modelling assignments where the child is paid

The person responsible for the event or production must apply to the child’s local council for a performance licence, not the child’s parents. If you’re a parent, however, it might be a good idea to make sure that a performance licence has been obtained for your child.

Children can only work full-time when they reach the minimum school-leaving age. Once they reach this age, they can then work a maximum of 40 hours a week.

In England, though, children are required to be in part-time education or training until the age of 18, so they will have to fit this around their working commitments. Once a child reaches 18, normal adult employment laws will apply.

Working hours

Children between 13 and 16 are not allowed to work during school hours and are only allowed to work for a maximum of 12 hours a week during term time. They can also only work for up to two hours on school days and Sundays. All year-round, children can only work up to eight hours on Saturdays.

During school holidays, children aged 13-14 can only work a maximum of 25 hours a week, while those aged 15-16 can only work up to 35 hours a week. Children under 16 are only allowed to work up to eight hours a day during school holidays.

Minimum wage

In the UK, school-aged children are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage. In fact, businesses are not even required to pay them. Since children don’t have to pay any National Insurance contributions, businesses don’t have to put them on the payroll.

Children under 18 are entitled to £4.55 per hour, while apprentices are entitled to £4.15 per hour, according to the government’s current National Minimum Wage. If you don’t think you or your child is being paid according to the law, consider taking advice from an employment law solicitor.

Working restrictions

There are a number of restrictions on where children can work and the types of work they’re allowed to do. For example, the government advises that children can’t work without an employment permit issued by the education department of the local council, if required by local bylaws. Your local council will have a list of jobs a child cannot do, so it would be worth contacting them to find out more.

They’re also not allowed to work in places like factories or industrial sites. They’re not permitted to work for more than an hour before school starts or for more than four hours without taking a break of at least one hour. They can’t carry out any work that would be harmful to their health, well-being or education.

Children are also not allowed to work in pubs, betting shops or other environments where gambling takes place.

With all these restrictions in place, knowing how old you have to be to work in the UK can be just the first step when it comes to childhood employment. This is why it’s so important to make sure you find out all you can about children at work.


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