All employers should be aware that changes have been introduced to the penalties that will automatically be levied after 6 April 2009 if you fail to observe your obligations regarding payment of National Minimum Wage rates.

From 6 April 2009, a new automatic penalty will be levied where HMRC compliance officers find arrears of the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

Penalties will range from £100 to £5,000 and those employers who settle within 14 days of notification will receive a 50 per cent discount of the penalty for prompt payment. The penalty must be paid in addition to any arrears owed to the workers. The most serious cases of non compliance may be tried in a Crown Court and subject to an unlimited fine.

To reflect this change, the current system of separate NMW enforcement and penalty notices will be replaced by a combined notice of underpayment and penalty. This will be issued whenever HMRC discover that arrears were outstanding at the start of their enquiries.

The notice will detail the amounts due to workers and any penalty due on those arrears. For PAYE reference periods starting on or after 6 April 2009 the penalty will be half the total underpayments shown on the notice. HMRC can pursue arrears claims for workers going back up to six years.

You will be able to appeal both the amount of the arrears and the penalty to an Employment Tribunal (an Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland) under new appeal rights. You can call the National Minimum Wage Help line in confidence on Tel 0845 6000 678.

The rates are as follows:

The rates set are based on the recommendations of the independent Low Pay Commission. The rates change on 1st October each year.

National Minimum Wage rates applicable from 1 October 2008

  • Workers aged 22 and over – £5.73 per hour
  • Workers aged 18-21 –         £4.77 per hour
  • Workers aged 16-17 –         £3.53 per hour
  • Accommodation offset –      £4.46 per day (£31.22 per week)