Updated on 10 May 2016

The traditional view of an apprentice might be a young person learning alongside an experienced tradesman, for example a plumber in the construction industry. However, nowadays, apprenticeships can offer a gateway into a variety of careers. 

Accoding to a Government news story, the number of disabled people in apprenticeships has more than tripled in the last 10 years. With the launch of the Disability Confident campaign (intended to help more disabled people into apprenticeships and jobs) these figures look set to grow.

This is great news for young disabled people and adult learners who want the opportunity to earn, while they learn in a real job and gain a real qualification.

Here we look at apprenticeships in more detail.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships combine practical training in a job with study. They are about equipping individuals with the new skills and learning they need for their job roles and for future employment and progression.

Apprenticeships are a popular choice for young people but are actually open to all ages.

With regard to apprenticeships in England, there is some more information about eligibility, how long they take, the qualifications you can get and the different levels of apprenticeship on GOV.UK.

You can find also out more about English apprenticeships from the National Apprenticeship Service, including about the different types of apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships policy is a devolved matter and it is for the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to determine how they manage their own schemes. Find out about apprenticeships in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland by clicking on the relevant link.

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Are apprenticeships inclusive?

The Government says that a disability should not be a barrier to getting an apprenticeship. Many employers offer support or equipment to help you do your job and there is an employer toolkit available to help employers further. You can find this on the Government website and also read more about equality and diversity in apprenticeships here.

Hopefully you will not need it, but you can find some information about complaining about Apprenticeships on GOV.UK.

Can I get Access to Work?

Apprentices fall within the scope of Access to Work payments and assistance. These can help fund support or adaptations beyond the reasonable adjustments which an employer is legally obliged to provide under the Equality Act.

For more information regarding eligibility please visit the Access to Work website pages.

How much are apprentices paid?

Apprentices must be paid at least the Apprenticeship National Minimum Wage for all the time they are on their Apprenticeships.

Apprentices who are under 19, or who are over 19 and in the first year of their Apprenticeship, will be paid a minimum of £3.30 per hour (from 1st October 2015), however many businesses pay more. Individuals not falling into these categories should be paid the National Minimum Wage rate for their age band.

This rate includes time working plus the time spent training both on and off the job. This includes time spent at college/or off site with a provider.

Guidance about the appropriate rates is available on the GOV.UK website.

Sadly many businesses do not understand how minimum wage rates work so some apprentices are not always paid what they are legally due. You should call the Acas Pay and Work Rights Helpline if you are not getting the National Minimum Wage and think you should be.

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What about apprentice terms and conditions?

Most apprentices are employed and therefore have the same rights as other employees. To find out more about rights as an employee go to the GOV.UK website.

Some things to note though are:

  • The minimum hours of employment for an apprentice should be at least 30 hours per week. By exception, where the individual’s circumstances or the particular nature of employment in a given sector makes this impossible, then an absolute minimum of 16 hours must be met. In such cases the duration of the Apprenticeship should be extended.
  • Apprentices are also entitled to holidays which you can find out more about on GOV.UK.
  • Many of the special protections in the Working Time regulations for young workers under 18 will apply to apprentices, for example young workers must not exceed the 8 hours a day or 40 hours per week. They are also entitled rest breaks of at least 30 minutes if their shift lasts more than four and half hours.

You can contact the Acas helpline for free and confidential advice on your rights at work.

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What are the tax implications?

There is a common misconception that apprentices do not have to pay tax. This is not the case. Apprentices have to pay income tax in the same way as everyone else.

For the 2016/17 tax year, if you earn less than £11,000 you should not ultimately be taxed at all. The £11,000 figure is known as your personal allowance. Earnings over the personal allowance will be taxed at a rate of 20 per cent. If you earn more than £43,000, your earnings over that limit will be taxed at 40 per cent.

You will normally pay tax through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system – meaning that it is taken straight from your pay packet. You will therefore not normally need to worry about completing a self-assessment tax return.

You can find out more on how the PAYE system for employees works, how tax is paid and how to claim back tax if you think you’ve paid too much, in the 'tax basics' section of our website.

What about National Insurance? Aren’t there some special rules coming in?

For the 2016/17 tax year, if you earn more than £155 per week you will also have to pay National Insurance contributions (NIC). As an employee you will pay Class 1 NICs. These are charged at 12 per cent of your income between £155 and £827 per week. Earnings over £827 will attract additional NICs at 2 per cent.

With regards to special rules about National Insurance for apprentices, you may have heard that the Government will cut NIC for apprentices under 25, from April 2016. This is true, however this will only apply to EMPLOYER NIC for apprentices aged under 25 and up to earnings of a certain level. This will make it cheaper for employers to take on an apprentice – hopefully meaning they will take on more. You can read more about it in this Government notice.

Can apprentices claim tax credits?

There are two types of tax credit – working tax credit (WTC) and child tax credit (CTC). The tax credits system is gradually being replaced by ‘universal credit’ but the changeover will not be complete for some time, so in the meantime some people will remain as tax credits claimants.

Apprenticeships and tax credits can be a tricky subject. As a general overview, if you are single and have no children, then to be entitled to WTC, you will need to be:

  • at least 25 years old and in ‘remunerative’ work for at least 30 hours per week; or
  • at least 16 years old and working at least 16 hours per week, if you have a physical or mental disability which puts you at a disadvantage in getting a job; or
  • at least 60 years old and working for not less than 16 hours per week.

The hours requirements are different if you have children or a part of a couple. For a full list of the requirements see HMRC’s guidance.

HMRC say that the hours you work as an apprentice will count as ‘remunerative’ work for WTC purposes if:

  • you have a contract of employment for your apprenticeship.
  • you are attending a scheme (apprenticeship) where your payment is classed as earnings and subject to income tax and NIC.

We advise that you contact the Tax Credits helpline on 0345 300 3900 and explain your situation.

You can find more on Tax Credits and Apprenticeships here on our website.

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Where can I find more information about apprenticeships and disabled people?

You can find the Government’s collection of apprenticeship information on GOV.UK. This includes a guide to apprenticeships which provides information for young people on the opportunities, progression and benefits of doing an apprenticeship with case studies from real apprentices. There is also a guide to writing an apprenticeship application which is packed full of hints and tips about how to register, search and apply for an apprenticeship.

Disability Rights UK's Into Apprenticeships is a new guide for disabled people, parents and key advisers about applying for apprenticeships. Into Apprenticeships deals with common questions such as how to find an apprenticeship, whether the training will be accessible and what support is available in the workplace. There are several inspiring stories written by disabled apprentices about their own experiences and the challenges they have faced. As well as taking advantage of the support on offer, the apprentices talk about the importance of their own creativity, perseverance and motivation.

The guide also contains a useful resources section listing further websites, publications and organisations which can help.

You can download the guide in word or pdf format for free.

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