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HMRC internal manual

National Minimum Wage Manual

Pay reference periods & elements of pay: how long is a pay reference period?


Relevant legislation

The legislation that applies to this page is as follows:

For pay reference periods commencing

* on or after 6 April 2015; National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015, regulation 6
* before 6 April 2015; National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999, regulation 10


A worker’s pay reference period is either:

  • a month, or
  • if the worker is paid by reference to a period shorter than a month, that period.

A pay reference period can never be longer than one calendar month.

For example: If a worker is paid fortnightly, their pay reference period will be 2 weeks.

If the worker’s pay is calculated fortnightly (such as if the worker has a 2 week shift pattern) but paid monthly, their pay reference period is a month.

If the worker is paid once every 3 months, their pay reference period will be 1 month.

When determining the pay reference period, it does not matter when the payment of wages is actually made. The important thing to consider is the period the payment covers.

For example, a worker who is paid for the month of August on the last Thursday of the month will have the same pay reference period as someone paid for the same period on the last day of the month i.e. 1st August to 31st August.

When calculating arrears, if the worker received no pay for the work they performed and there was no understanding of when pay the pay should have been made, then by virtue of Regulation 10, the pay reference period is a month.

The length of the first and subsequent pay reference periods

When a worker starts work, their first pay reference period starts on the day their contract starts and ends when their pay reference period would normally end.

For example, a worker started work on a Wednesday. He is normally paid weekly from Saturday to the following Friday. The first pay reference period will be Wednesday to Friday. Subsequent pay reference periods will be Saturday to Friday.

The length of the last pay reference period

When a worker leaves, the final pay reference period ends on the date it would normally end, even though the worker’s contract may have ended before this date.

For example, a monthly paid worker who is paid for each complete calendar month leaves work half way through July. His final pay reference period is still a full calendar month from 1st to 31st July.

(This content has been withheld because of exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000)

For payments made after the employment ends - see (NMWM09030).