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Child employment

A child is anyone who is not over compulsory school age. Compulsory school age ceases on the last Friday in June of the school year in which a child reaches 16 (the school year begins on 1 September and ends on August 31).

Employment means helping with a trade or occupation which is carried on for profit, even if the child receives no pay.

Child employment and the law

You are not allowed to employ a child:

  • if the child is under 13, or
  • if the child does not have a work permit

The law restricts the times when you can employ children and what kind of work a child is allowed to do.

Parents and employers who break these laws can be fined up to £1,000.

When can children be employed?

It is against the law to employ a child before 7am, after 7pm or during school hours. On a school day, a child is allowed to work a maximum of 2 hours (one hour before school and one hour after school, or two hours after). You can employ a child to do some work before school and some after, provided that the child does not work more than 2 hours in total.

There are restrictions on the number of hours a child can work in a week. This varies between term time and holiday time.

A child must be allowed a two week break from any employment during the school holidays at some point during the academic year.

How many hours can children work?

These are the maximum hours that children are allowed by law to work.

  • Aged 13-14

During school term:
Per week: no more than 12 hours
On Saturday: no more than 5 hours (this must include a 1 hour break)
On Sunday: no more than 2 hours

During holidays:
Per week: 25 hours
Per day: no more than 5 hours (including a 1 hour break after working for 4 hours
On Sunday: no more than 2 hours

  • Aged 15-16

During school term
Per week: no more than 12 hours
On Saturday: no more than 8 hours (including a 1 hour break after working for 4 hours)
On Sunday: no more than 2 hours

During school holidays:
Per week: no more than 35 hours
Per day: no more than 8 hours (including a 1 hour break after working more than 4 hours)
On Sunday: no more than 2 hours

Types of work children can do

Children aged 13:

A child aged 13 may be employed only in light work in one or more of the following areas:

  • delivering newspapers, journals and other printed materials;
  • shop work, including shelf stacking;
  • work in a hairdressing salon;
  • work in an office;
  • work in a café or restaurant;
  • work in riding stables;
  • domestic work in hotels and other establishments which offer accommodation;
  • car washing by hand in a private residential setting; or
  • agricultural or horticultural work.

Children aged 14 and over:

Children aged 14 and over may be employed in light work which is not specifically prohibited for them by law, provided the work and the environment in which it takes place are not harmful to their safety, health or development.

Prohibited employment

The law bars children from some areas of employment, whatever their age. No child can be employed:

  • in a factory, industrial undertaking or in a company registered under the factory act;
  • in a commercial kitchen, preparing and cooking food;
  • delivering milk;
  • selling and delivering alcohol, except in sealed containers;
  • in a cinema, disco, night club or theatre;
  • doing any work which is 3 metres above the ground or higher, inside or out;
  • in telephone sales;
  • in a slaughter house or butcher’s shop;
  • collecting and sorting refuse;
  • in work involving machinery that may be considered to be dangerous;
  • in a fairground or amusement arcade;
  • in the personal care of residents of a care home or nursing home, unless under the strict supervision of an adult;
  • in work which involves exposure to adult material;
  • in street trading or selling from door to door; or
  • with dangerous substances, including petrol and oil.

Children working in entertainment

There are separate regulations for children employed in entertainment (eg working in TV, theatres, films, paid sport or modelling).

Children over 16

National Insurance Cards are issued to all children prior to their 16 birthday. However, because they are of compulsory school age, they still need a work permit and the same regulations apply as to other children.

How to apply for a work permit

To be employed in any kind of work, a child must have a work permit. Whenever a child starts new employment, the child’s parent or carer and the prospective employer are both responsible for making sure that an application form is completed. You can obtain the form from the employer.

If you are an employer, you must make an application for a work permit within one week of employing a young person. You should send the form to the Child Employment Officer. They will check that the type of work and the hours to be worked are suitable and comply with the employment regulations. They will then issue a work permit.

The work permit is personal to the particular child and the particular job that the child is doing. If there is a change to the job, you will then need to apply for a new permit.

The child should carry the permit card on their person whenever they are working. They may be asked at any time to show the card to either a police officer or a representative of the Local Authority (The Borough Council).

Children of the compulsory school age can only be employed in Bedford if Bedford Borough Council issues them with a work permit. If a child is employed at a work placement which is not in Bedford, the parent/carer or prospective employer must obtain an application form from the Local Authority where the child will be working.

Additional information

Employers are expected to carry out risk assessment for each child before they employ them. They must inform the parent of any risks (The Heath and Safety [Young Persons] Regulations 1997).

Employers must keep a register of all school aged children working for them.

The Education Welfare Service has the authority to revoke a work permit if the child is found to be working illegally or the child’s education is being impaired.

The law and child employment

The law relating to the employment of children and young persons is The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (amended 1998). Under this Act, if a child is employed illegally then both the parent and the employer may be fined up to £1,000.

Bedford Borough Council Byelaws 1998 also relates to child employment.

For more information

If you require more information, please contact:

Please contact Debi Momi on 

Statutory Support Services
Bedford Borough Council
Borough Hall
Cauldwell Street
Bedford Borough Council
MK42 9AP

Work permit application form (PDF)

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