Answers to questions about work and business in Britain, including where to find a job, basic working rights, wages, pensions and working life.

75% of people working Britain are in the service sector. This is mostly finance, insurance and business services.

About 10% work in manufacturing. Only 1.3% work in farming.

The NHS is the country’s biggest employer. About 1.6 million people work there.

The government’s Find A Job service is a good place to start looking for work. It includes employers who have signed up to the ‘Disability Confident’ scheme that will support people who are disabled or have long-term health conditions.

Specialist industries (film, engineering, journalism, medicine, teaching, farming etc) usually have their own specialist job websites so do an internet search to find the one most relevant for you. However, there are also more general job websites, which cover many diffferent kinds of work:

Other places to find jobs:

  • recruitment agencies
  • job fairs
  • online networking
  • newspapers
  • specialist magazines that serve a particular industry. The website has a list of UK magazines
  • facebook
  • pub/shop windows

If you want to learn how to write application forms and do well in interviews, there is a free online course from FutureLearn, part of the Open University.

A CV is the British word for a resume. A CV should be no more than 2 pages long. It should show contact details, employment history, education, key skills, references and a short mention of interests. There are many examples online.

Make sure you get it checked for grammar and spelling before sending it. Be aware that American English is different to British English and some words are spelt differently.

Some industries (for example, communications or creative) are not so interested in CVs. Instead, they want to see evidence of your previous work across social media and the internet.

In many public sector jobs, application forms are used instead of CVs.

  • Graduate career website Prospects has a lot of advice about CVs.

Full-time workers work an average of about 37 hours a week.

The average weekly wage is about £515. However, there is a legal minimum wage, called the National Living Wage. The amount usually depends on your age.

The National Living Wage is the lowest amount you can be paid per hour. The exact amount depends on your age and whether you are an apprentice. Since April 2022, the National Living Wage is £9.50 per hour for people aged 23 and over. From April 2023 this will rise to £10.42 per hour.

If you are over 23, it is usually illegal to be paid less than the National Living Wage, even if you are:

  • working for one day
  • working for an agency
  • an agricultural worker
  • a foreign worker
  • part-time
  • a trainee
  • disabled
  • working from home
  • working offshore
  • a seafarer

If you are aged 21-22, the National Minimum Wage is £9.18 per hour (2022 figure). There are other rates for apprentices and younger age groups.

More information about the National Minimum Wage rates is on the main UK government website.

There are some exceptions to the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage, for example self-employed people, volunteers, people in religious communities and au pairs.

The National Living Wage is not always high enough to meet living costs. A charity called the Living Wage Foundation has calculated that a more realistic amount is £11.95/hour in London and £10.90/hour in the rest of the UK (2022 figures). They call this the ‘real Living Wage’.

The Living Wage Foundation encourages businesses to pay their workers at least the real Living Wage. Over 5,000 employers have joined the scheme.

Doing work experience (also called an ‘internship’) for a company is a popular way to build up skills and learn more about an industry. Sometimes companies advertise for interns. At other times, you might be successful if you ask them directly.

By law, interns should get paid at least the National Minimum Wage unless they are under 16, or they are students doing the work as part of an educational course, for less than 1 year.

The only other exceptions are for charity work or if the intern is just watching someone else.

People working full-time (5 days a week, or equivalent) must get at least 28 days’ paid holiday every year. This is the same as 5.6 weeks.

This includes agency workers, workers on ‘zero hours’ contracts and workers who don’t have a set pattern of hours. People working part-time have their holiday time scaled down. For example, if you work 2 full days a week, you must get at least 2 x 5.6 = 11.2 days’ holiday.

Public holidays might be part of your holiday time. There are usually 8 public holidays in England and Wales. There are 9 in Scotland.

  • Read more about paid holiday rights on the main government website. The page also has a useful calculator to help you work out how much holiday you should get, even if you only work a few hours a week.

In some jobs, yes. Even if your workplace is shut, the public holiday might be part of the total holiday time you are given. Other employers give them as days extra to your main holiday entitlement. Check your contract.

‘Employees’ who are ill for more than 4 days in a row, including non-working days, can get Statutory Sick Pay from their employer for up to 28 weeks. Your employer does not usually have to pay you for the first 4 days you are ill.

People who are ‘workers’ do not always get Statutory Sick Pay (see the question below to find out the difference between employees and workers).

Statutory Sick Pay is about £95 a week, although some employers pay more. After 28 weeks, there is no law about getting money, although some employers are generous.

The independent public organisation ACAS gives free, impartial advice about workplace rights. There is a telephone helpline at 0300 123 1100, or you can search the ACAS website.

In employment law, there are differences between ’employees’, ‘workers’ and ‘self-employed contractors’. This is called your ’employment status’ and differences affect the rights that you have – but there are no exact definitions. It usually depends on your actual work and working relationship with your employer.

  • Employees are generally people who do regular work for their employer and have a manager and contract. Employees have the highest number of rights. These include the national minimum wage, holidays, sick pay, redundancy pay, time off when having a child, time off for emergencies and the right to ask for flexible working. Employees also have protection from ‘unfair dismissal’ (asked to leave the job for no good reason). Some of these rights only come after working for a set amount of time or when earning over a certain level.
  • Workers might also have a contract with their employer (it doesn’t have to be written), but the work is usually more casual and occasional than for an employee. Workers have the right to the national minimum wage, holidays and rest breaks. They might also be able to get time off when sick or having a child. However, they do not have any protection against being asked to leave the job and do not have the right to redundancy pay or time off for emergencies.
  • Agency workers are people who get jobs through a company that arranges workers. This might include models and people who do regular temporary work in offices or other businesses. Agency workers have ‘worker’ status and should be able to use workplace facilities. They are entitled to sick pay. If they work more than 12 weeks at the same workplace they should get the same benefits as employees.
  • Self-employed contractors do not get employment rights (such as sick pay or holiday) because they are their own boss. This means they can choose when and where to work and can even hire someone else to do it. Often they will agree to do a job for a set price, rather than getting paid hourly.

Read more about the differences between different types of working on the main government website.

It is usually illegal to treat someone unfairly because of their age, race, religion or belief, sexuality, disability, gender (sex), marriage/civil partnership, sexual orientation or because they pregnant or are on maternity leave. There are some exceptions, usually because of the type of job (for example, pregnancy and working with toxic chemicals).

There are different types of unfair treatment. Examples of ‘direct discrimination’ are unequal pay or bullying. There can also be ‘indirect discrimination’ – where the rules or arrangements within a company mean that group of people are treated unfairly.

If you believe you are being treated unfairly, see the independent public organisation ACAS for help and advice about unfair treatment. They are able to offer help in English and other languages.

  • The charity Citizens Advice also has a lot of useful information about discrimination on its website.

There are many ways your employer could treat you badly. They include:

  • unsafe working practices
  • wages or holiday time below the legal minimum
  • making you work over the legal limit of 48 hours per week

It is best to try to speak to your manager first. If this fails, there are other options:

  • The main government site has helpful advice about workplace disputes.
  • A benevolent fund for your industry might be offer help or legal advice.
  • The independent organisation ACAS can help you understand workplace law and your rights. You must tell ACAS if you want to take your employer to court.
  • Join a trade union. Britain has a large number of unions, representing many different workers.

This situation is more difficult if you are working illegally. However, you might still be able to get help. Speak to the charity Citizens Advice.

If you are working for very low (or no) pay and are frightened to leave your job, you might be a victim of modern slavery. Contact the police on 999. The police will help you and can protect you. If you prefer not to call the police, the charity Salvation Army has a 24hr telephone helpline: 0300 0038 151.

Both parents of a child might be able to get time off work when a baby is born (or if they adopt a child). The main government website has an online calculator that can tell parents how much time off (called ‘leave’) and pay they could get. It is quick and easy to use.

  • You can also read more about this topic in the FAMILY & PETS section.

Everyone who has paid National Insurance for over 10 years should get some amount of State Pension.

If you are over 22 and you are employed and paid more than £10,000 a year, you should normally have some of your wages paid into a workplace pension. This is called Automatic Enrolment. The minimum is 8% of earnings between £6,136 and £50,000. The money comes as a mix from your employer, your wages and government tax relief.

Some employers have different schemes that pay more. Speak to your employer for advice. The Pensions Advisory Service can also give advice about workplace pensions.

If you are self-employed, you will need to set up your own pension.

  • See the MONEY & TAX section for more details about pensions.

You can retire whenever you like, no matter how young or old (for most jobs, it is illegal for an employer to treat you unfairly because of your age).

However, to claim your State Pension you must be at least 65.

You have to prove you are allowed to work if you want a job in the UK. This is called the ‘right to work’. You can prove it by showing your passport, biometric residence card (and visa, if applicable), or by using the Online Checking Service. You must do this before you are given the job.

British citizens have an automatic right to work in the UK. People with Indefinite Leave to Remain or Settled Status usually have the right to work here too.

EU citizens and citizens of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are allowed to work under standard European rules until 30 June 2021. After that, there are different rules, depending on how long you have been in the UK.

For anyone else, the right to work usually depends on your visa. This will influence the type of work you can do and how many hours you can work per week.

Make sure you have a National Insurance number.

National Insurance is a type of tax. You usually need a National Insurance (NI) number before you start work.

Children who live in the UK are usually sent their number on their 16th birthday.

If you have a biometric residence permit (BRP), you will find the number on the back.

If you have just moved to the UK, you can start work without a NI number as long as you can prove you have the ‘right to work’. You will need to apply for the NI as soon as you arrive in the UK. You might need to have an interview.

Having an NI number does not, by itself, prove you have the right to work in the UK.

NINO is another way of saying National Insurance number.

It is possible for many overseas qualifications or skills to be recognised in the UK, for example:

  • exams and diplomas
  • university degrees
  • professional qualifications
  • construction skills
  • experience with children 0-5

There is one official national agency responsible for providing information and advice: The UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre). They can also help with an assessment of your English language skills.

You need to pay for the service, but multiple qualifications can be included for the same price.

There are 2 main parts to the NARIC website, depending on what you need:

Read more about getting a job

There are many ways to start a work email. Here is a list of the most common ways:

  • Dear Sir/Madam: a formal choice when you don’t know who you are writing to.
  • Dear [name of company] team: A good alternative when you don’t know who to write to, but don’t want to be too formal.
  • Dear Mrs/Mr/Ms/Mx [last name]: the most formal way uses the person’s title and last name. Very formal and shows respect
  • Dear [first name]: a good choice for most situations, for example when you are writing to a client.
  • Hi [first name]: less formal. Better when writing to younger people and for people you already know well
  • Hi/hey/yo: Very informal

There is no set rule about how to sign off an email at work, but some ways are more formal than others. This means some ways are good for clients, others are better for colleagues.

Here is a list, starting with formal choices and ending with the less formal:

  • Yours sincerely: Very formal. Still used sometimes (for example, applying for a job or writing to a client for the first time).
  • Yours faithfully: Traditionally used to end a letter to someone you don’t know. Now rarely used.
  • Best wishes: Good for most situations
  • Kind regards: Good for most situations
  • All the best: Good for most situations
  • BW: Short version of ‘best wishes’.
  • KR: Short version of ‘kind regards’.
  • Thanks or ‘ta’: Informal, good among colleagues
  • Take care: Informal, good among colleagues
  • Cheers: Informal, good among colleagues

‘Hot desking’ means you do not have your own desk – you just use one that is available. This is often in companies that don’t have a set number of people in the office every day, in order to save space.

In some offices, it is OK to stay at the desk for several days. In others, you are expected to move every day. It is polite to clear the desk completely at the end of the day.

When people resign from their job or are made redundant, they usually have to work 1 month or more before they can start another job. This is called the ‘notice period’.

Some companies prefer that people do not work during the notice period. This is usually because the person might know sensitive commercial information.

The person who is leaving has to stop work, but they still get paid until the end of the notice period. This is known as ‘gardening leave’ – probably because a lot of people stay home and enjoy their garden.

If you are self employed and your business is not a ‘limited company’, then you are known as a ‘sole trader’. There are some advantages, but one of the main disadvantages is that you are personally liable for any losses within the business. This means you could even lose your home or become bankrupt if there were very big losses.

There are different types of business partnerships. As a very general guide:

  • A standard business partnership means 2 or more people share a business. Profits, losses and expenses are shared equally.
  • A limited partnership (LP) has 2 or members with different levels of responsibility and liability for losses. LPs must be registered at Companies House.
  • A limited liability partnership (LLP) also has 2 or more members, but no-one is personally liable for losses the business makes. LLPs must be registered at Companies House.

Read more about setting up business partnerships on the main government website.

‘Ltd’ is a short version of the word ‘limited company’. This means that a company is a legal entity and losses are not the personal responsibility of anyone.

Limited companies must register with Companies House. They must file their accounts there. Filed accounts can be seen by members of the public.

Being a limited company does not automatically mean that shares in the business are available to buy.

If you are a sole trader, registering the business as a limited company and becoming a director gives 2 main advantages:

  • It can be easier to get investment and loans.
  • There is lower financial risk. For example, if your limited company gets sued, the company takes responsibility for financial loss. However, a sole trader would be personally liable.

Always take professional advice before making a decision. The main government website has more information about setting up a business.

A PLC is a ‘publicly listed company’. This means that anyone can buy shares, either on the stock exchange or during an Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Companies that are PLCs must add ‘PLC’ after their name. They are strictly regulated and must publish their finances so investors can judge their performance.

Companies House is the official register of companies in the UK, including limited partnerships and PLCs. There is no charge to check basic information, like the registered address, details of directors and accounts.

The amount of information available depends on the size of the company.

Businesses that are registered for VAT (value added tax) are able to claim back any VAT paid by the business when buying products or services. However, they must also charge VAT on their own products or services.

You must register for VAT once your business sells £85,000 a year of products or services (if they are not VAT-exempt), or if you expect to sell more than £85,000-worth in the next 30 days.

There are also some other situations where you need to register. You can also register voluntarily.

Read more about life at work

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