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 31 August).

Employment is any type of paid or voluntary work carried out for any person, organisation or business that can be deemed to be the employer of the child.

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 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?

There are maximum hours that children are allowed to work by law. You can find further information about the maximum hours of employment for children by going to National Network for Children in Employment and Entertainment.

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
  • agricultural or horticultural work

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
  • with dangerous substances, including petrol and oil

Children over 16

National Insurance Cards are issued to all children prior to their 16th birthday. However they still need a work permit and the same regulations apply as to other children until they are no longer compulsory school age.

Work experience

Children who are in the last two years of compulsory school age do not need a work permit for work experience arranged by their school where the work experience is provided as part of their education.

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.

If you are an employer, you must submit an online application for a work permit within one week of employing a young person. The Licensing Officer will check that the type of work/ hours to ensure they are suitable and comply with the employment regulations before issuing the 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 on their person whenever they are working. They may be asked at any time to show the permit 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 Borough, the parent/carer or prospective employer must obtain an application form from the local authority where the child will be working.

Online applications must be completed in full - we do not accept applications by email. Please note incomplete applications will delay the process.

  • Employers to complete employment type and hours (upload relevant documents e.g. Risk assessment, which relates to the child only) the first part needs to be completed by the employer and the second part will need to be completed by the parent.
  • Parents to complete and certify.

Apply online for work permit

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 Health and Safety [Young Persons] Regulations 1997).

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

Bedford Borough Council 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 1998/2004 also relates to child employment.


It is Bedford Borough Council’s practice that inspections are carried out at places of entertainment within Bedford. The Licensing Officer carrying out the inspection would make him/herself known to the chaperone on arrival and will have identification with him/her.

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