A child's legal rights What the law says about children working

Children, employment and the law

To help keep children safe and protect their rights, there are laws governing what kinds of work they can do, how they are paid, and when they can work. 

An employer can be prosecuted for breaking these laws.

In most cases, businesses intending to employ school-aged children need to apply to their local authority for a child employment permit before the child can start work.
Children are only allowed to work:

  • at certain hours of the day
    For example they can’t work during school hours, early in the morning or late at night. They also need to have regular breaks.
  • in places that are considered safe for children
    For example children can’t work in a factory or industrial site, or in most jobs in a pub or betting shop.
  • if it doesn’t affect their health, wellbeing and education
    The local authority won’t allow a child to do any job they think may be harmful to them.

Local bylaws may also restrict the kind of work children can do.
The Government provides guidance on employing children.

You can find guidance for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on a range of topics such as pay, holiday and general rules through the Citizens Advice Bureau

Age limits

Teenage boy in park smiling

Age limits
The youngest age a child can work part-time is 13, except for children involved in specific areas such as television, theatre or modelling.
Children can only start working full-time once they’ve reached the minimum school leaving age – after this they can work up to 40 hours per week.
Young people can work as apprentices from the age of 16. However, there is also a Young Apprenticeship scheme for 14 to 16-year-olds. Apprentices are paid a salary for their work and also pay tax and national insurance.
Leaving school
Young people in England must stay in some form of education or training until the end of the academic year when they turn 18. This might include:

  • full-time education
  • an apprenticeship
  • part-time education or training (as well as being employed, self-employed or volunteering for at least 20 hours a week).

In Northern Ireland,Scotland and Wales the school leaving age is 16 years. In each nation, the exact school leaving date depends on the child’s date of birth.

If a young person has left school but is under 18, they are still subject to the laws and restrictions on employing children.

Young people who work with other children

Child care establishments like nurseries, crèches, and out-of-school clubs are heavily regulated. They need to make sure they have the right ratios of staff to children. In general, only people aged 18 or over should be included as adults when calculating adult to child ratios. 

Work experience placements, work-related learning and apprenticeships

The Department for Education has published non-statutory advice to help schools, colleges and other training providers deliver work experience, including information on health and safety and accountability.

The Health and Safety Executive have published a handy guide with definitions and outlines of the legal requirements for employers who have young people doing work experience with them (PDF).

Young people can work as apprentices from the age of 16. However, there is also a Young Apprenticeship scheme for 14 to 16-year-olds. Apprentices are paid a salary for their work and also pay tax and national insurance.

Child performers

Children under school leaving age may need a performance licence if they are taking part in:

  • films, plays, concerts or other public performances that the audience pays to see, or that take place on licensed premises; and/or
  • any sporting events or modelling assignments where they are paid.

The person in charge of the event must contact the child’s local council to check if a performance licence is necessary and make the application.

Children who are taking part in performances must be supervised by their parent, school teacher, home tutor or a chaperone who has been approved by the child’s local council.

More information about performance licences and supervision for children.

Disclosure and barring checks

People who are supervising a child employee or children on work experience don’t usually need disclosure and barring checks, unless they’re taking part in “regulated activity” (this means having close and unsupervised contact with a child). If a child is identified as being particularly vulnerable, or if the work placement is long term, a disclosure and barring check might be necessary.

Children aged under 16 who are doing voluntary work experience do not need to have a disclosure and barring check. Over 16s will need to have a check if they are working unsupervised with other children or vulnerable adults.

If someone in the workplace has been barred from working with children, that person must not be allowed to have regular contact with child employees or any other young people. If an employer knowingly allows them to do so, they are breaking the law.
More information about vetting, disclosure and barring checks

Unemployment benefit
Children who are aged 16 or 17 and who have little or no income may be eligible to claim Income Support (IS) or jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).

More information is available from job centre plus in England, Scotland and Wales or the jobs and benefits office in Northern Ireland.

Keeping children safe at work

Employers have a responsibility to keep all the children they work with safe. This includes providing a safe environment and making sure they are doing a job which is suitable for their physical and psychological capabilities.
Employers must carry out a risk assessment before a child starts work, and take measures to reduce any risks identified. In most cases, if the child is below school leaving age, the employer must inform the child’s parents about the results of the risk assessment.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides guidance on health and safety considerations for young people in the workplace.

Work experience placements

The Department for Education has published non-statutory advice to help schools, colleges and other training providers in England deliver work experience, including information on health and safety and accountability.
The Health and Safety Executive have published a handy guide with definitions and outlines of the legal requirements for employers who have young people doing work experience with them (PDF).

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