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What do I need to know about working during the vacation?

By David Malcolm

Wednesday 10 February 2016 Info and advice

Here’s some advice about finding work during the vacation and your rights and responsibilities as an employee.

Finding work

You'll know from the headlines that it's a tough job market for everyone, so if you're looking for work to earn some extra cash during the vacation there may be a lot of competition, especially over the summer.

But there are steps you can take to maximise your chances of getting a job. Many universities have a job shop or employment service operated by the institution or students’ union, which caters specifically for students. Most of them filter the jobs to make sure the employers aren’t completely evil, and in addition may offer help with key job application skills such as interview techniques and writing CVs and personal statements. Also, check your students' union to see if they have any jobs available in their shops or bars.

If you'd rather work for yourself, and you have a skill you can share, you might consider self-employment. For example, you could use your design or computer programming skills, or tutor younger students or school pupils. Use websites like studentgems to market your skills and find jobs. The National Association of Student Employment Services (NASES) also has resources and information for working students.

In an ideal world, students would be able to find employment in areas that are relevant to their future careers, or at least pay well. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, particularly because some of the more plum roles are advertised as unpaid internships. Speak to the job shop about opportunities, but remember that most students are still to be found in low-paid, low-skilled jobs in catering and retail.

Your rights as an employee

Whatever job you get, you need to know your rights. Employers must obey the law, no matter how challenging the job market may be. Here are the key points to bear in mind:

  • Minimum wage: all workers are entitled by law to earn at least the minimum wage. See NUS' information on students and the minimum wage. You can check the official rates or use the minimum wage calculator to make sure you get what you’re entitled to.
    If you get tips at work, these don’t count towards your minimum wage, so don’t get let anyone persuade you otherwise. See NUS' information on students and the minimum wage. Here’s the government’s advice on getting tips at work.
    If you’re signing up to an internship, it may be subject to minimum wage laws if it counts as employment. Read your employment rights for interns to find out how and when this applies. See also NUS's information on students and the minimum wage.
  • Written contract: all employees are entitled to a written contract and a rest period if your shift is six hours or longer. Part-time employees can’t be treated less favourably than full-time workers, but if you work through an agency you can be treated less favourably at present than permanent employees in some circumstances, so be careful. Check your rights and your employer’s responsibilities.

Trade unions

One way to ensure that your rights are upheld is to join a trade union. They can help you discuss employment matters with your bosses and bargain for better rights in your workplace. Student workers often get a rough deal – but there’s safety in numbers. workSMART can help you find the right union for you and your job.

Income tax and national insurance

As soon as you start earning money, don’t forget about tax. Contrary to popular belief, students are liable for income tax – but don’t worry, because at present the vast majority of students don’t earn enough to have to pay it. National insurance, on the other hand, could be deducted at lower levels.

If you work full-time over the summer vacation it often happens that your income tax is calculated as if you're earning that level of cash every month or week for the whole year. This means you could end up overpaying. Keep an eye on your payslips and if that's the case you can get a refund.

See our advice about income tax and national insurance to find out more.

This information was updated in February 2016. NUS provides this information in good faith and has taken care to make sure it’s accurate. However, student finance issues can be complicated, and rules change frequently. You should contact the advice centre in your students' union, college or university for support if you’re uncertain or need more help.