Postgrad Life: Working in the UK
Many postgraduate students take jobs to make ends meet, but are often a little lost on the finer details like how many hours to work, what tax they should pay and other things. While taking up a job and making a little extra cash is great, you must ensure that you are not adversely affecting your studies and also that you are not breaking the law.
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Working as a UK student
If you are from the UK, then your status as a student does not affect your ability to work. As long as you are paying the right amounts in tax and national insurance (if any), you are free to work as you please.
Working as an International Student (Non-EU)
The rules on international students working in the UK tend to vary on a case-by-case basis, so the best thing to do is to ask the relevant authorities. As a rule of thumb however, most postgraduate students studying for longer than six months in the UK have permission to work on a part-time basis. This usually means you cannot work for more than 20 hours a week during term-time. There are also some other caveats: you cannot be self-employed and you cannot work as a sportsperson, sports coach or entertainer.
If you are working in the UK, you are subject to British laws on working and tax. It is therefore important you before you start work you gain a National Insurance number and also work out your tax status. It can take up to six weeks to get a National Insurance number, so apply for one as soon as possible.
Working as an EU student
If you are from the EU, then under EU freedom of labour laws you are usually allowed to work in the UK without needing any kind of express permission. If in doubt, contact the relevant authorities.
Many students in the UK are under the false impression that they do not need to pay tax, when in fact they do if the amount they make qualifies them to do so. In the UK tax system, you have a ‘personal allowance’ on which you do not pay tax. For the year 2012-13, the first £8,105 of your income will not be taxed. If you make less than that amount in a year, then you will not be taxed at all. Since most students only work part-time, it is unlikely that you will earn more than your personal allowance in a year and therefore you probably will not be taxed.
Most employers use a system known as Pay As You Earn (PAYE) to calculate how much tax you need to pay. Due to the mathematics involved in calculating PAYE, if you earn a lot of money in a small amount of time (for example if you worked full-time during the holidays) then your employer may tax your earnings. This may be a little annoying, but you can claim the money back later. If you have earned under £8,105 by the end of the tax year, then you simply need to fill in the relevant form for HMRC and you will be refunded.
Everybody who works in the UK must have a National Insurance number, but that does not necessarily mean that you need to pay National Insurance. Generally, you only need to pay National Insurance if you earn over £146 a week. If that applies to you, then your National Insurance contributions will be deducted automatically from your pay.