‘Absurd’ excuses from employers for not paying minimum wage revealed

“My accountant and I speak a different language” and “she only makes teas” are some of the excuses employers used to not pay staff the National Minimum Wage in the past financial year, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has revealed.

The hourly rate varies depending on age and experience. Most employers comply with this rate, but the tax regulator has highlighted some “ridiculous” attempts to get around the legal requirement.

One employer claimed it is part of UK culture not to pay young workers for the first three months so they can “prove their worth”. Another said they only pay workers when they are serving customers in the shop, not when they are “just on standby”.

Other excuses included the employer believing non-British workers do not have the right to be paid the minimum wage, while another said their workers “like to think of themselves as being self-employed and the National Minimum Wage does not apply to people who work for themselves”.

One employer even had staff sign a contract saying that they will not be paid the minimum wage.

Steve Timewell, director of individuals and small business compliance, HMRC, said: “This list shows some of the excuses provided to our enforcement officers by less scrupulous businesses. Being underpaid is no joke for workers, so we always apply the law and take action. Workers cannot be asked or told to sign-away their rights.”

Mr Timewell added: “Any employer deliberately or unapologetically underpaying their staff will face hefty fines and other enforcement action.”

HMRC did not name any of the employers or companies behind the excuses.

The National Minimum Wage starts at £4.30 an hour for an apprentice and £4.62 per hour for those aged under 18, rising to £6.56 for those aged 18 to 20, £8.36 for those aged 21 to 22 and £8.91 per hour for anyone aged 23 or over.

Earlier this month the HMRC revealed that 191 companies, including John Lewis, Pret A Manger and The Body Shop, failed to pay £2.1 million to more than 34,000 workers between 2011 and 2018.

New research last month also found that around 3.7 million people are “trapped” in low-paid and insecure work, often receiving less than 24 hours’ notice for their shifts.

The Living Wage Foundation said its analysis of official figures showed that almost half of insecure, low-paid workers were away from work, mainly due to being furloughed, during the height of the Covid crisis, compared to fewer than a fifth of other workers.