What’s a zero-hour contract?

There are so many zero-hour contract jobs out there in UK but what are they? Will I be sitting at home all day waiting by the phone? Will I earn enough money? Can I still claim benefits? We find out the facts for you. 

girl working at a cash till

What should I expect?

Zero-hour contracts mean you’re not guaranteed any work – and if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. A zero-hour work contract usually means that:

  • Your employer doesn’t have to find you work: they’ll only ask you to work if you’re needed.
  • You only get paid for the hours you work: so there might be times when you won’t get any money.
  • You can refuse work: your boss doesn’t have to offer it, but, on the flip side, you don’t have to accept it.
  • Your working pattern could vary: you might only work at certain times of year, or get more hours when things are busy.
  • You could actually get loads of hours: people on zero-hour contracts work around 26 hours a week on average.

Which industries usually offer zero-hour contracts?

Zero-hour contracts are often used for seasonal jobs and ones where demand for staff can go up and down. These include:

  • Retail: from high-street supermarkets to online shops.
  • Catering and hospitality: including restaurants, pub chains, hotels and events.
  • Tourism and leisure: including theme parks and cinemas.
  • Security: sports grounds and music venues need more staff at busy times.
  • Care work: this often involves working on-call.

So, do I have any legal rights?

You’re not guaranteed any work or pay but you do have some rights. These include annual leave and the National Minimum Wage.

You also have the right not to be discriminated against, including if you’re pregnant – your boss can’t use that as a reason not to give you work.

Before signing a zero-hour contract, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand what’s in it. Bogged down by legal-speak? Organisations like Citizens Advice and ACAS can help you make sense of it.

Can I work somewhere else as well?

Your employer can’t do anything to stop you from working for another company. If there is a clause in your employment contract that says you have to exclusively work for that company the law says that you can ignore it. This is because they potentially limit your ability to earn a good wage.

What’s the best reason to take a zero-hour contract?

Flexibility. You’re not tied to set hours, which works well for some people.

Can I claim benefits as well? 

You might get some benefits. Some depend on the number of hours you work, so it’s best to keep a record of the hours you do.

  • If you work 16 or more hours a week you might get Working Tax Credits. You’ll need to tell the Tax Credits helpline about any changes.
  • If you work less than 16 hours a week you might qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance.
  • You could also get income-related benefits like Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.
  • You probably won’t have automatic rights to maternity, paternity or adoption leave, a notice period or statutory redundancy pay.

Do I have to take a job with a zero-hour contract if I’m on JSA?

Not at the moment, no. Currently, jobseekers don’t have to apply for zero-hour contracts and you shouldn’t be sanctioned if you turn one down.

More information