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.

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 April 2024, the hourly national minimum wage rates are:

  • £11.44 for workers aged 21 and above;
  • £8.60 for workers aged 18-20;
  • £6.40 for workers aged 16-17;
  • £6.40 for apprentices under 19, or in the first year of their apprenticeship.

We think it’s unfair that young people doing the same job get paid less that those above 20 years old, so we are campaigning for everyone to receive the same minimum wage.

Last year’s rates, for comparison, were:

  • £10.42 for workers aged 23 and above;
  • £10.18 for workers aged 21-22;
  • £7.49 for workers aged 18-20;
  • £5.28 for workers aged 16-17;
  • £5.28 for apprentices under 19, or in the first year of their apprenticeship.


“National living wage”

The top tier of the national minimum wage, payable to workers aged 21 and over, was labelled as a “national living wage” when it was introduced by the government in April 2016.

The government set a target for this wage to rise to two-thirds of average earnings by 2024. However, the wage does not truly reflect a living wage, since it is not based on the cost of living.

Living wage

The Living Wage Foundation, an independent organisation that campaigns for a living wage  based on the true cost of living, announces its independently calculated wage rate at the beginning of Living Wage Week, which takes place over the first week of November every year.

The Living Wage currently stands at £12 an hour outside London, and £13.15 an hour in London. We support the Living Wage Foundation and campaign for this too.

Who is eligible for the national minimum wage ?

Most workers are eligible for the national minimum wage – even if you agree to work for less or your contract says you are entitled to less. Employers are legally required to pay at least the national minimum wage.

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

If you are being paid less than the 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: 0300 123 1100

Not a UNISON member?


Next steps for UNISON reps

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

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

  • 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, again at 21 and again at 25.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • When will the national minimum wage go up?

    The National Minimum Wage is reviewed each year by the Low Pay Commission, and changes take effect in April.

  • 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.