The minimum wage

What is minimum wage in the UK? How does minimum wage work and how does it change as you get older? These are probably some of the questions that you’ve got if you’re starting off work at a young age. Lucky for you, The Mix has all the answers. All you have to do is a bit of reading (we promise it’s worth it).

A young man is drinking coffee. He is discussing the national minimum wage. This is a wide-angle image.

What is minimum wage?

Let’s get the What is minimum wage? question out of the way ASAP.

The National Minimum Wage basically exists to protect you from being underpaid in hourly-paid jobs. Not only does it stop you being paid nearly nothing, it’s also reviewed every year to ensure the rates are fair. Although, we should mention that minimum wage rates are different for different ages, with the minimum wage for a 16 year old being the lowest amount of money you could earn.

How much is NMW?

From 1st April 2022, the following National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates apply:

  • The minimum wage for a 21 year old: £9.18 per hour (currently £8.36)
  • Minimum wage for an 18 year old a.k.a school-leaving age: £6.83 per hour (currently £6.56) until you’re 21
  • NMW for those aged 16 years old: £4.81 per hour (currently £4.62) until you’re 18
  • Minimum wage for an apprentice: £4.81 per hour (currently £4.30) for apprentices under 19, or over 19 and in the first year of their apprenticeship.

It’s important to note that wages are different for 18 to 20-year old apprentices. Apprentices over 19 and past the first year of their apprenticeship should get the minimum wage for their age. 

National Living Wage

Workers aged 23 and up get the National Living Wage, which is £8.91 per hour, rising to £9.50 per hour in April 2022. So, once you get into a different age group, you’ll get paid more. This means you get paid £2 more than the minimum wage for an 18 year old for getting five years older. Pretty jammy right? For context, the National Living Wage is just the NMW with a different name. You get it instead of NMW, not on top of, sorry.

I earn less than the NMW! What can I do?

First, go straight to your employer and have a frank discussion with them. We’ve got some tips on how to ask for a pay rise here. If you’re worried about talking to your employer you could also contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau beforehand. If either of those options don’t work for you, you can call the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368, or fill out an online form. They’ll definitely help you with your dispute.

Alternatively, contact HMRC. If they discover that you’re being paid unfairly, they’ll send out a notice to your employer. This’ll essentially just be asking them to pay you arrears, a.k.a what you’re owed, plus an extra penalty for not paying minimum wage. HMRC will even take them to court on your behalf if they still refuse to pay.

You can also challenge them yourself by taking your case to an employment tribunal – although you’ll only have three months to do this. For more advice on getting paid the right amount, check the advice on The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) website. Never let your employer walk all over you. You always deserve a fair wage for doing good work.

Why wouldn’t I get the minimum wage?

You’re not eligible for the minimum wage if you’re:

  • Self-employed
  • On certain government schemes at pre-apprenticeship level
  • On a government employment programme to give you training or work experience
  • Related to your boss and living in the same house as them
  • Living in the same house as your employer – e.g. nannies and au pairs
  • Doing odd jobs for friends or neighbours
  • A member of the armed forces

What is the real living wage?

The real living wage (RLW), £9.90 per hour. The difference between the living and national wage is that the RLW is an estimate of what is needed to live in the UK based on actual living costs. If you live in London, for example, the living wage is higher at £11.05 an hour.

Unfortunately, your employer doesn’t legally have to pay you the real living wage, but they can opt into paying it. You can find out more about this on the Living Wage Foundation’s website.

More support

Next Steps

  • Find your local Citizens Advice here, for free and independent legal advice. Or call their helpline. 03454 04 05 06
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


work pay

By Holly Turner

Updated on 05-Feb-2022