An education charity has called for unpaid internships that last more than a month to be banned as it accuses employers of exploting a ‘lack of clarity’ in the law. In a report published today the Sutton Trust says interns should be paid at least the minimum wage (£7.05 per hour for 21-24 year olds, or £7.50 for over 25s) or preferably the living wage of £8.75 (£10.20, in London) if an internship lasts longer than four weeks. According to the report, unpaid internship in London would cost an intern £1,019 per month.

The trust added that internship opportunities should be properly advertised to avoid ‘locking out’ those who do not have the right connections.

According to the report, the current law should be tightened because some employers are exploiting the ‘lack of clarity’ to avoid paying their interns. 
‘Many of the unpaid internships which are currently taking place are illegal. If the work an intern does is of value to their employer, and the intern has set hours and responsibilities, they are likely to qualify as an employee under UK employment law, which means that they are entitled to be paid the minimum wage,’ the report says.

The trust said it is supporting a private members bill introduced by Lord Homles of Richmond to limit unpaid work experience or internships. The bill had its first reading in June last year, and is currently making its way through parliament.

The Sutton Trust’s report added that large numbers of internships are never advertised, and instead offered through informal networks, excluding talented young people without  connections.

The report follows a recommendation by MPs and peers who last year called for a ban on unpaid internships, claiming they prevent people from less well-off backgrounds from pursuing their chosen career. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Nobility said that people who ‘cannot afford to work for free’ are losing out.