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Revealed: the most absurd excuses used by employers for underpaying staff

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Paying the national minimum wage is a legal requirement, yet some unscrupulous bosses still try to worm their way out it.

Data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) shows it helped more than 155,000 workers last year recover more than £16m in pay, and also issued more than £14m worth of penalties.

The national minimum wage – the lowest a worker can be paid by law – is currently £8.91 per hour for people 23 and over, £8.36 for 21 and 22-year-olds, and £6.56 for those 18 to 20. The hourly minimum for under 18s is £4.62 and £4.30 for apprentices.

While most employers pay the minimum wage, some try to dodge it. HMRC has published some of their most absurd excuses.

“She does not deserve the National Minimum Wage because she only makes the teas and sweeps the floors.”

“The employee was not a good worker, so I did not think they deserved to be paid the National Minimum Wage.”

“My accountant and I speak a different language – he does not understand me, and that is why he does not pay my workers the correct wages.”

“My employee is still learning so they are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage.”

“It is part of UK culture not to pay young workers for the first three months as they have to prove their ‘worth’ first.”

“The National Minimum Wage does not apply to my business.”

“I have got an agreement with my workers that I will not pay them the National Minimum Wage; they understand, and they even signed a contract to this effect.”

“I thought it was okay to pay young workers below the National Minimum Wage as they are not British and therefore do not have the right to be paid it.”

“My workers like to think of themselves as being self-employed and the National Minimum Wage does not apply to people who work for themselves.”

“My workers are often just on standby when there are no customers in the shop; I only pay them for when they are actually serving someone.”

If you think you’re being underpaid, you can complain online at or call the Acas Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0300 123 1100, who can transfer the call to HMRC.

Employers can also contact the Acas Helpline for free help and advice or visit to find out more.

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