HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has written to more than 500 firms over the last three months reminding them that interns classed as workers must be paid the minimum wage.
The government also wants HMRC to focus minimum wage enforcement work on firms using unpaid interns.
The latest moves to curb illegal unpaid internships were contained in the government’s response to the Taylor Review of working practices, published last year, which concentrated particularly on the gig economy of part time and flexible workers.
However, it also highlighted the issue of unpaid internships, saying the government should ensure that “exploitative unpaid internships which damage social mobility in the UK, are stamped out”.
The government’s written response said: “Exploitative unpaid internships should not exist and we will work to eradicate these. We will take action to improve the interpretation of the law and the enforcement action taken by HMRC in this area to help stamp out illegal unpaid internships.”
Last month the Sutton Trust charity estimated that 40% of 70,000 internships undertaken annually were unpaid – but said young workers need a minimum of £1,019 per month to live in London and £827 in Manchester. It backed cross-party calls to ban unpaid internships over a month long.