Apprenticeships

Updated on 22 May 2017

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 ever more focus on getting disabled people into jobs, these figures look set to grow.

Here we look at apprenticeships in more detail.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are Government funded work-based training programmes for people aged 16 and over. They combine on the job training with nationally recognised qualifications. They are about equipping individuals with the new skills and learning they need for their job roles and for future employment and progression.

Apprenticeships come in different levels from intermediate and advanced to degree level and will last a minimum of 12 months, but depending on the qualification they may take longer.

There are lots of different subjects available to choose from sector specific Apprenticeships like Dental or Childcare to ones in Customer Service and Business Administration. 

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 'Get in, go far', 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 ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

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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 and also read more about equality and diversity in apprenticeships on GOV.UK.

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

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Can I get Access to Work?

The Access to Work scheme is run by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and gives grants to help disabled people start working or stay in work

Apprentices fall within the scope of Access to Work payments and assistance. 

Read our separate guide on Access to Work for more information.

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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 19 or over and in the first year of their apprenticeship, will be paid a minimum of £3.50 per hour (from 1st April 2017), however many businesses pay more. Individuals not falling into these categories should be paid the 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 hourly rates is available on the GOV.UK website. If you are not paid on an hourly basis, e.g. you are paid an annual salary, then GOV.UK contains information about how to work out if minimum wage is being paid.

For detailed information on how the minimum wage should be calculated, including how the accommodation offset works and how things like travelling time, tips and uniform deductions should be dealt with, please see our news piece.

Sadly some businesses do not understand how minimum wage rates work so some apprentices are not always paid what they are legally due. You should speak to your boss or call the Acas Pay and Work Rights Helpline if you think you are not being paid correctly.

Please note that the government now amend the minimum wage rates on 1 April each year as from 2017.

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What about apprentice terms and conditions?

Most apprentices are employed and therefore have the same rights as other employees, including the right to be enrolled into a workplace pension (auto enrolment). 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 2017/18 tax year, if you earn less than £11,500 you should not ultimately be taxed at all. The £11,500 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 £45,000 (£43,000 if you are a Scottish taxpayer), your earnings over that limit will be taxed at 40 per cent or more.

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.

Are there special rules for National Insurance?

For the 2017/18 tax year, if you earn more than £157 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 £157 and £866 per week. Earnings over £866 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 cut NIC for apprentices under 25, since 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 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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