Skip to the main content

This guide gives a simple introduction to working in the UK and explains many of the common words and conditions used in the UK relating to employment. It does not explain how to look for work.

As someone who works you have legal rights. You will need to understand what type of ‘worker’ you are in order to know what rights you have.

The broad nature of working may be divided into five main categories: employment, self-employment, consultancy, ‘office holder’, and setting up a business.
The guide does not give information about self-employment, freelance work, consultancy work or the setting up of a business. To find out more about these areas of work you can check out the webpages and Adviceguide

Different types of employment


It sounds simple, but the definition of an ‘employee’ is someone working under a ‘contract of employment’
This means that you might be working for a company, an organisation, the government, the Students’ Union, but your employer will tell you when to work and what work to do.
Your contract of employment must set out the agreement that you have with your employer and this includes

  • employment conditions
  • rights
  • responsibilities
  • duties

This isn’t the same a contract to do a bit of work for someone, like paint their house, which is a contract to provide services.

It isn’t always easy to know whether you are a ‘worker’ or an ‘employee’, and as an employee you have extra rights. Our advisers can help you to determine your status.

Self-employed or Freelance

This means that you work for yourself. It also means you decide what to do and when to work. You are responsible for your own Income Tax and National Insurance payments.


This is very similar to self-employment, but you will be using your professional and technical skills to meet your customers’ needs.

Office holder

This is an unusual type of work, but does include Student Union Sabbatical Officers. Usually people obtain this type of work by some form of election.

Setting up a business

In this situation you will be employing other people to work for you.


If you have a Tier 4 General Student Visa you can only use the employment option. You are limited to 20 hours per week during term time. For further information on working during your studies, please see the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website.

If your visa says NO WORK, you must not work.

If you have a Student Visitor Visa, you must not work.

If you are not sure if you can work, please contact the Advice Service for more information.

British Citizens, EEA and Swiss Nationals

There are currently no restrictions on the type of work you may do.

Croatian nationals need permission to work, for further information please see the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website.

All students

If you wish to work in the UK, there are various legal and contractual factors which affect this work.

If you do any form of paid work in the UK, your pay will be subject to the normal Income Tax and National Insurance rules. Although the rules are complex a key point is that if your monthly earnings are below a certain level you will not pay National Insurance and if your monthly earnings are below a certain level you will not pay Income Tax. For further information, please see the Citizens Advice website on Income Tax and National Insurance.  There is also information on the website on Income Tax and National Insurance.

The Income Tax and National Insurance year runs from 6th April until 5th April of the next year. Income Tax is sometimes known as PAYE.

Contract of employment

This is the legal agreement between the employee and the employer; there is no requirement for this to be in writing. The letter from the employer offering a job will create the contract.

A Job Description may be added to the contract to give a clearer picture of what you are required to do.

Terms of the contract

The employer must give each employee a written statement describing the main terms and conditions of the employment. This must happen within two months of the job starting.

The written terms will tell you about: sick pay, holidays, dismissal and grievance procedures, and the amount of pay. Sometimes the employer will give you a staff handbook in addition to the contract and terms of employment.

Casual work

This relates to one off events such as working at Welcome Fair. Although the employer may offer work on more than one occasion, each offer is a separate agreement, with the implied understanding there will not be any future offer of work.

As and when required

This means the employee will work only when the employer needs someone. There is no guarantee that work will be available, but an understanding that if work is available the employee will be offered some work. Often this method is used to provide cover for regular staff who are away from work on sick leave or on holiday.

Fixed term contracts

This means the job is for a limited period of time.

This type of agreement might be used for fruit picking in the summer.

The Students’ Union uses this agreement because student staff are only offered work one academic year at a time.

Unfair dismissal

Each employee has the right not to be sacked or dismissed without good cause. An employer must use a formal disciplinary procedure before dismissing an employee.

If you think you might be dismissed or have been dismissed you can obtain help from the Citizens Advice website or you can come to the Advice Service.

If your employer tries to bring your job to an end, or says there is no more work, this is a form of dismissal. It may be fair or unfair.


This is a form of dismissal; again it may be fair or unfair.

If an employer wishes to make one or more employees redundant, the employer must show the employees concerned are truly redundant and not this is not simply a means to avoid unfair dismissal.

A key point is that it is the job and not the employee who is redundant.

Before an employer can make a person redundant s/he needs to consider if another job is available within the organisation.

If you think your employer may make you redundant you can look at the Citizens Advice website or you can come to the Advice Service for guidance and more information

Relevant organisations

The following is a list of those organisations you may have contact with in connection with your employment in the UK.

DWP - Department for Work and Pensions

This is a large government department that deals with National Insurance numbers and contributions, state pensions and a wide range of welfare benefits.

The DWP uses the name Job Centre Plus for some of its offices.

It was previously known as the Benefits Agency, or Social Security office.

HMRC - HM Revenue and Customs

This is a large government department that deals with all forms of taxation.

Employment Tribunal

This is part of the court system and deals with certain employment complaints such as unfair dismissal, discrimination and grievances.

Home Office - UK Visas & Immigration

This is the government department that deals with immigration issues, but is involved in preventing illegal working.

Local Authority or Council

These are local government departments that deal with issues such as health & safety, food hygiene, and child protection.

Health & Safety Executive

This is a government department that deals with major health and safety issues.

Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS)

For certain types of work, your employer may require you to obtain a disclosure from the DBS. This will provide information about you that will help the employer decide if you are a suitable person.

The types of work include working with children, working with vulnerable adults, and certain jobs where a degree of trust is necessary.

Useful links