Cashing In

Heads-up on your employment history: shelf-stacking isn’t an obligatory first job. Money Manual sizes up the bucks, benefits and tax breaks of student employment

Working to finance your studies is brilliant for lots of reasons — and not just because you imagine it’ll have employers drooling over your CV. As well as the cash, part-time work gives you a break from studying, widens your social circle beyond college and tests your aptitude for the big 9-5.

How to pick a gig:

  • Will you work in term time or just during holidays?

    Working to finance your studies is brilliant for lots of reasons

  • Do you want to pay your way through uni, do something fun or get a leg on the career ladder?
  • What kind of work would you enjoy doing? What will you actually accept?
  • What’s your biggest talent and can you make money doing it?
  • Will it work around your studies (and does your uni have any rules about students not working)?

Talk to your SU or college’s careers adviser — they can help you pimp your CV, may have access to job boards and local employers, and can give you the inside scoop on any campus vacancies going.

Making allowances

You can earn up to £12,570/ yr before the taxman gets a cut (the Student Loan and grants don’t count as taxable income, FYI). Once you start getting payslips, any tax and national insurance you owe will be automatically deducted and you’ll get
whatever’s left. Check you’ve got the right tax code on any payslips to avoid paying too much (or too little) tax.

  • Your job; your rights
  • Part-timers are entitled to the same fair treatment as full-time staff.
  • You’re entitled to a break if you work longer than a six-hour day (but you may not get paid for it).
  • Part-timers can get pro-rata, paid annual leave, same as full-time colleagues.
  • At the time of writing the minimum wage at 16 is £3.72, rising to £6.31 at 21+ (apprenticeships get slightly less). These figures may increase in future.
  • Your employer can’t use tips to make up the minimum wage.
  • Beware zero-hour contracts, where you’re only paid for hours actually worked. While they’re good for flexibility, you might find you get very few shifts, at short notice, and have little recourse to complain.

It’s illegal for an employer to pay you in cash without making the relevant deductions. Think of the taxman as a highly trained sniffer dog and your earnings as prime Winnalot before agreeing to anything. You might also be waiving your employee rights if you don’t have paperwork and payslips: don’t get stung.

Doing It Alone

Being self-employed isn’t code for tax evasion: it just means you take responsibility for paying your own tax and national insurance contributions (NIC).

You don’t need to formally create your own company if you’re a sole trader, but you will need to let HMRC know you’re self-employed and may need to complete a tax return at the end of the year. Make sure you put aside a third of anything you earn for tax and NIC — you’ll only need to pay it if you earn more than the basic allowance so, if you don’t, you’ll have a nice nest egg to crack open instead. You may also be able to claim money back for some of your business costs: see

  • You don’t have to start a production line to be self-employed. What you do, when and how much you charge is up to you:
  • Dog walking or pet sitting
  • Childcare (if you’re qualified)
  • Photography
  • Cleaning or removals services
  • Social media and marketing campaigns for local businesses
  • Face-painting and body art (think gigs, fêtes and festivals)
  • Writing for newspapers and magazines or proofreading student essays
  • Busking, singing, comedy or selling things you’ve made

Do Your Homework: Is your service legit? Will home-working affect your contents insurance? Do you need a licence or qualification to offer it? Selling your work to essay-writing sites is questionable at best and could be breaking your college’s regulations at worst. Gambling, meanwhile — especially with your grant or loan money — is a particularly stinky idea in the sewer of get-rich-quick schemes. Don’t veto volunteering, either. It might not pay the bills but it can be a whole heap of fun — and karma’s always good to have on-side…