Minimum wage and national living wage

The national living wage and national minimum wage set minimum hourly rates that employers must legally pay workers in the UK.

There are very few exceptions to the rules, so most workers are entitled to the minimum wage, even if they have agreed to lower pay.

The government’s national living wage was introduced on 1 April 2016 for all working people aged 25 and over. The national minimum wage applies to workers under the age of 25.

How much is the national minimum wage?

National minimum wage levels vary depending on your age and whether you are an apprentice. It is reviewed every year, with changes introduced every April.

From 1 April 2017, the hourly national minimum wage rates are:

  • £7.05 for workers aged 21-24
  • £5.60 for workers aged 18-20
  • £4.05 for workers aged 16-17
  • £3.50 for apprentices under 19, or in the first year of their apprenticeship.

National living wage

Workers aged 25 and over are entitled to the government’s so-called national living wage of £7.50 an hour . 

If you are being paid less than the appropriate rate for workers aged 25 and over then, you can insist that your pay is raised to the national living wage

Living wage

The Living Wage Foundation, an independent organisation that campaigns for the minimum wage to reflect the true cost of living, will announce its own, independently calculated, living wage rate at the beginning of Living Wage week (the first week of November).

It currently stands at £8.75 a hour outside London, and £10.20 an hour in London.

Who is eligible for the national living wage and national minimum wage ?

Most workers are eligible for the national living wage, or national minimum wage – even if you agree to work for less or your contract says you are entitled to less. Employers are legally obliged to pay the national living wage and the national minimum wage.

What to do if you are paid less than the national living wage or the national minimum wage

If you are being paid less than the national living wage, or national minimum wage, speak to your UNISON representative. They can help you receive the correct amount of pay.

ACAS operates a helpline that you can call if you are being paid less than the minimum or national living wage: 0300 123 1100

Next steps for UNISON reps

UNISON actively campaigns for better pay and conditions for all workers, and you can help.

Campaign for equal pay. Help make sure that all workers are fairly paid. Join the UNISON campaign for equal pay.

Raise awareness about the minimum wage. The best way to make sure all workers earn the minimum wage is to spread the word. Does everyone in your workplace know that they are entitled to earn the minimum wage?

Key facts

  • The national minimum wage is the least that employers must pay.
  • All employers are legally obliged to pay it.
  • If your employer has not been paying the minimum wage, you can force them to pay you the money they owe you


Minimum wage

  • Should I be paid the minimum wage if I am required to sleep at work?

    The Whittlestone EAT judgement has established that “sleep-ins” are covered by the national minimum wage (NMW) regulations. So even if a worker is allowed to sleep at work, if they are required to stay at their workplace, then all their hours are covered by NMW regulations.

    This means if any worker is paid – on average – less than the NMW over their pay reference period, they will be entitled to a pay rise to ensure NMW compliance. They may also be able to pursue a claim for back pay. However, because working patterns vary enormously between individuals; this will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

    For more information download the briefing on sleep-ins and the national minimum wage (2015) (PDF)

  • Who is not entitled to the minimum wage?

    There are a number of people who do not qualify for the national minimum wage. These include:

    • volunteers;
    • voluntary workers;
    • self-employed workers;
    • company directors.
  • When will the national minimum wage go up?

    The national minimum wage is reviewed each year by the Low Pay Commission, and changes usually take effect in October.

  • My employment contract states a rate of pay lower than the minimum wage: what can I do?

    Assuming that you are eligible for the national minimum wage (most people are) then your employer must pay it, regardless of any contracts or agreements made.

  • From what age do I qualify for the national minimum wage?

    You are eligible for the national minimum wage from the age of 16 (at the lower rate). The rate increases when you turn 18 and then again when you turn 21.