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Employing minor children

The rules on employing minor children (ie those under the age of 16) vary according to your local authority. As a rule of thumb, you will need to apply for a work permit to employ any child under 16. 

In general, children need to be at least 13 to be able to work and for you to be able to get a work permit to employ them. Some local authorities will only issue work permits to children aged at least 14. You also need to carry out a risk assessment regarding the child’s employment.

Each local authority will have its own rules on children’s working hours. The underlying principle, however, is that school has to come first. This means that you should expect restrictions on children working on school days. You can also expect restrictions on the number of hours they can work.

Minor children do not qualify for the minimum wage or for pension auto-enrolment. They can, however, choose to opt-in to a workplace pension if they meet the other qualifying criteria. Likewise, they are technically liable for income tax and national insurance. In practice, however, they are highly unlikely to meet the qualifying criteria (eg income thresholds) for any of these.

Employing adult children

For legal purposes, the term ‘adult children’ means children who have reached the age of at least 16. For the most part, 16- to 17-year-olds can work on the same basis as full adults. They will, however, still be subject to some restrictions until they turn 18. These mostly apply to the sale of age-restricted goods. In general, 16- to 17-year-olds can sell these as long as the sale is approved by someone over the age of 18.

Once your children reach the age of 18, they officially become fully-fledged adults and can be treated accordingly. The one real difference between workers aged 18 to 21 and workers aged 22 or above is that the former are exempt from pension auto-enrolment. The latter may opt-out of auto-enrolment but must actively choose to do so.

That said, 18- to 21-year-olds may request to be auto-enrolled if they meet the qualifying criteria. It is much more likely that they will meet these criteria, as they can typically work more hours. Furthermore, they can take on more responsible work so their rates are likely to be higher. Auto-enrolment could, therefore, be a useful way of passing on the benefits of your business to your children.

Make sure to pay the correct minimum wage to all qualifying employees. This includes the apprentice rate if you hire your child as an apprentice.

Employing any family member

You should always keep full and accurate records of your business finances. This is, however, particularly important when you’re employing family members. HMRC may look particularly closely at financial transactions between you and your relatives. This is even more important if you’re paying in cash, as HMRC tends to be particularly suspicious of cash transactions.

On a similar note, you may wish to be cautious about having your children handle financial transactions, especially when they’re minors. If, however, you do allow them to handle money, you have to follow the same protocols as you would for any other employee. This is for their protection as much as yours. If anything does happen, you need a clear audit trail to figure out what went wrong and why. This is advisable in any circumstances and is likely to be a prerequisite for making an insurance claim.

Last but definitely not least, make sure that any hours your children work are properly recorded. Again, this is particularly important when they’re minors but it also applies to adults. If there is an incident, you need to be able to show that both you and your child fulfilled your obligations as an employer and employee respectively.

Protect yourself and anyone you hire

Regardless of who you hire, it’s important that you use the right employment documents for your situation. You should use:

For more information on employer-employee relationships, read Hiring, Employment documents, and Manage employees

Do not hesitate to Ask a lawyer if you have any questions about employing your children.


Peter Scully
Peter Scully
Marketing Consultant at Roger Spencer

Peter Scully is the Marketing Consultant at Rogers Spencer, who are Chartered Accountants in Nottingham that provide businesses with tailored accountancy services.

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