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What is the National Minimum Wage?

6 min read  |   17 November, 2022   By Laura Sands

British one pound coins are shown, close up.
    

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Living Wage (NLW) are the minimum amount of pay a worker should receive in the UK, based on certain criteria. 

In this blog, we'll cover what these terms mean and who's eligible.  

What is the National Minimum Wage?

What is the Real Living Wage?

What's the difference between National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage?

Who is entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage?

What happens if a business doesn't pay employees the correct wage?

How HR software can help with admin

What is the National Minimum Wage?

The National Minimum Wage is the legal minimum employers must pay their staff, as set by the government.

There are a few different terms covering different entitlements. 

  • If you're aged 23 or over, this is called the National Living Wage (NLW)
  • If you're aged under 23 (or an apprentice), this is called the National Minimum Wage (NMW)

The rates for the minimum wage depend on your age, and whether you're an apprentice. 

What is the National Living Wage? 

The NLW applies to all workers over 23 and is currently £9.50 per hour. This will rise to £10.42 an hour for those over 23 from April 2023.

Confusingly, the NLW was simply a renaming of the NMW and not truly linked to the cost of living. 

 

What is the Real Living Wage?

The 'Real Living Wage' is calculated independently of the government by the Living Wage Foundation.

The Real Living Wage is a rate that is voluntarily paid by more than 7,000 UK businesses to help their employees meet everyday needs. It is not a legal requirement. 

The National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage change at the start of April each year.

 

What's the difference between National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage?


The difference comes down to the age of an employee.

Workers aged 23 and 24 are now entitled to the lower National Living Wage. 

The government website details current hourly rates for those aged 21-22, 18-20, under 18, and apprentices, along with rates as of April 2023. 

Whereas the NLW is the minimum rate employers are allowed to pay employees, the Real Living Wage is the payment rate recommended by the independent Living Wage Foundation, among other organisations. Although it isn't a legal requirement for employers to pay the Real Living Wage, increasing numbers of businesses are choosing to do so in recognition of the financial challenges faced by many employees.   

The rates are calculated annually by the Resolution Foundation which is overseen by the Living Wage Commission and are based on the most recent and accurate data regarding living standards in London and the UK.  

Employee profile NMW NLW

Who is entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage?

 

Workers who are old enough to leave school are entitled to the National Living Wage. The government's website lists the criteria.  

The exception to this is apprentices under the age of 19, or who are 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship. Apprentices over the age of 19 who have completed their first year of apprenticeship are entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

Some people are not entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage. These include:

  • Company directors
  • Volunteers
  • Workers on a government work programme
  • Workers younger than school leaving age
  • HE and FE students on a work experience or placement for up to one year

You can see the full list on the UK government website.

The National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage change at the start of April each year.

 

What happens if a business does not pay employees the correct minimum wage?


HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are streamlining their investigations and audit process in a bid to expose and reprimand employers who underpay their staff.

It is the employer's responsibility to pay the correct National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates to all eligible employers and apprentices.

If there has been an underpayment, employers are requested to immediately pay any arrears as well as any fines.

Employers who underpay must also pay a penalty to HMRC of double the amount it had to pay to the employee. And that’s not all. Employers who receive a notice of underpayment will have their name added to an online “name and shame” record, something which can be more damaging than the fine itself.

HMRC officers are entitled to check payment records at any time. This can be prompted from an employee or worker complaint, or simply as part of an audit.

 

How can HR software help you handle the admin around the National Minimum Wage?

HR software can help SMEs deal with the National Minimum Wage by making the record keeping of wages and employee data more transparent.

HR software such as Breathe gives you a centralised and secure platform to store your workers’ personal information, such as date of birth and nationality.

With this information readily available, you can view and then adjust hourly rates in line with National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage requirements.

Not only this but features such as the time log function allow you to sense check salaries against hours worked to make sure you are not inadvertently falling foul of the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage requirements.

Using a platform such as Breathe also makes it easier to respond to requests from HMRC during a National Minimum Wage audit. Because it falls to the employer to provide proof of correct payment, keeping payroll records securely stored on the cloud makes it easy to download all necessary information.

HMRC are entitled to check records going back as far as 6 years. Storing data safely in the cloud makes it easier for you to pull this data should you need to.

Further guidance

The government recently released a minimum wage calculator to help employers and employees work out National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage eligibility.

Contact ACAS for legal rights and impartial advice regarding National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage.

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Laura

Author: Laura Sands

Laura is a writer who enjoys getting into the detail of subjects and sharing that knowledge with snappy, interesting content. When not typing away, she enjoys walks in the woods and curling up with a good book and mug of something hot.

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