News story

HMRC reveals 10 worst excuses for not paying the minimum wage

Employers are giving elaborate excuses for not paying the National Minimum Wage (NMW) when challenged by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers, the department announced today.


One employer claimed that a worker was his wife but then had to ask her name. Another claimed that their employees didn’t speak English, so were not entitled to the minimum wage, while others simply tried to deny the employee worked there at all.

To coincide with the 15th anniversary of the National Minimum Wage, HMRC is today revealing some of the more unusual reasons given by about why they don’t pay their employees the legal wage.

Ten of the more elaborate reasons given in the past 12 months are:

  • An employer said a woman on the premises was not entitled to NMW as she was his wife. When asked what his wife’s name was the employer said “err.. her name, err what’s your name love?..”
  • An employer told HMRC: “I don’t think my workers know anything about the NMW because they don’t speak English.”
  • Another employer told HMRC: “When the NMW goes up I do increase the amount I pay a little, even if the total pay is still below the NMW. I don’t think its right to ignore the rises in NMW.”
  • A number of employers were paying rates below NMW, suggesting that accommodation they provided workers made up for their shortfall in wages.
  • Upon inspection an employer told HMRC: “I know I am paying them too little, but they are happy to work for this amount because they are getting experience.”
  • An employee claimed to be just working for a few days with a view to buying the business. When HMRC checked food safety records, the employee’s name was found on historic food temperature records.
  • An employer claimed they realised they were not paying employees NMW and had just this week increased their wages… to an hourly rate which was still below the minimum wage.
  • An employer told HMRC: “It wasn’t a conscious decision to say ‘I’m not going to pay this’, but I’ve never really considered doing it because I’ve not had people come to me and say, ‘I’m not getting paid enough’ or ‘Is this the minimum wage?’”
  • An employee ran out of the premises when HMRC officers arrived to check for NMW infringements. The same employee then returned – minus the work pinafore – pretending to be a customer.
  • Another employee claimed to be a friend of the owner and only in the restaurant as they were in the area. HMRC officers returned another day to find the person in the kitchen preparing food.

Jennie Granger, Director General of Enforcement and Compliance, HMRC, said:

Most employers are honest and pay their staff the correct rate. But this research shows that some still view the National Minimum Wage as a choice and will even try these crazy excuses to avoid paying workers what they are due.

Last year, HMRC’s investigations resulted in over 26,000 people getting a share of £4 million in back pay. HMRC investigate all complaints of employers failing to pay minimum wage. We will take action to recover back pay for employees and fine employers who are not playing by the rules.

HMRC officers work hard across the UK to ensure that everyone is paid at least the National Minimum Wage, and anyone who isn’t should call us.

HMRC’s nationwide network of NMW enforcement teams investigate complaints as well as educate employers and employees about what happens if they fail to pay their employees what they are owed.

Anyone who believes they are not being paid the National Minimum Wage can call the Acas Helpline for Workplace Advice , in confidence, for advice in over 100 languages – on 0300 123 1100.

Currently, calls to the helpline from interns who are working for nothing, or for “expenses only”, are being fast-tracked to HMRC enforcement officers for investigation.

Published 3 April 2014