Firms warned unpaid interns are illegal

EMPLOYERS are almost certainly breaking the law when they take on unpaid work experience interns, because they should be giving them wages if they work.

Think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and campaign group Internocracy warned firms they were mistaken if they believed they were allowed to take on unpaid interns as long as both sides knew it was a voluntary post. Kayte Lawton, research fellow at the IPPR, explained: "Too many employers don't understand the law when it comes to hiring interns.

"There is a mistaken belief that employers can take on people on a voluntary basis if both sides agree - but that's not what the law says.

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"If an intern is doing work for a company, then they need to be paid - it's as simple as that.

"In practice, this isn't what happens because employers don't understand the law and enforcement agencies are turning a blind eye.

"This is a real shame for all those hugely talented young people who can't rely on their parents to fund an unpaid internship. We should really be doing much better for them."

Dominic Potter, director of Internocracy, said: "We now have entire industries that rely on the willingness of young people to work for free. In the long run this is bad for business because it damages the reputation of these industries and makes it difficult for them to recruit from the broadest pool of talent.

"It also means that young people from well-off backgrounds or with good family connections have an instant advantage when it comes to finding a permanent job."

Universities minister David Willetts said: "We will be considering the IPPR report carefully over the coming weeks. Young people have been the biggest victims of the recession. We are committed to helping them get into work and realise their ambitions."