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We get asked quite a lot for advice on what age you can employ children in your fish and chip shop and what jobs they are allowed to do because often there’s some confusion. The reason for this is that there are strict rules governed by bylaws and these can vary between local authorities and therefore, you should always check the policies with your local council’s education welfare service. 

Generally speaking, you can employ children from 14 years old to work part-time in a café or a restaurant, but this cannot include work in a commercial kitchen, so they won’t be able to chip and peel spuds or work the frying range – and that includes taking anything out of the pans. 

You will have to apply to your local council for a work permit before you employ anyone under the age of 16, most council websites have the facility to do this online. During the application process you will be required to submit the hours you want a child to work, the duties you wish them to carry out, provide a statement from the parent or guardian to say they agree to the employment and provide a risk assessment that proves the job is not dangerous.

In certain circumstances children aged 13 can also work. However, this is where you’ll need to check the bylaws with your local authority. 

If a child is working without a child employment permit, undertaking jobs outside of their remit or working hours they shouldn’t be, not only are you committing a criminal offence and can be fined (the fine for failing to obtain a work permit for a child that you employ is up to £1,000), but there’s also a risk that you will not be insured against accidents involving the child. 

You could also find yourself in breach of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, which is a serious offence, as Justine Currell, director of Unseen which operates the Modern Slavery Helpline, explains: “The UK rules around employing young people are clear and must be adhered to. Anyone allowing or expecting children to work outside of these rules is clearly breaking the law. Young people should be focused on education first and foremost, but part-time work where it is within the guidelines and fits with the young person’s schooling can be advantageous and a positive experience.”

Jobs and hours

The work and the hours young people can undertake varies by age. A ‘child worker’ is considered somebody between the age of 14 and the minimum school leaving age (MSLA) and they can only do ‘light work’. 

This means that they cannot do any job that may affect their health and safety or interfere with their education. Some councils prohibit this age group from working in a fish and chip shop while others are more lenient and state they can serve at a counter and undertake jobs such as waiting on and cleaning tables, taking orders from customers, filling the drinks fridge, making up the takeaway boxes or potting up the tartare sauce.

Likewise working hours are restricted:

During school term-time

AgeMaximum hours per weekMaximum hours on schooldays or SundaysMaximum hours on Saturdays
13 – 14 year olds1225
15 – 16 year olds1228

During school holidays

AgeMaximum hours per weekMaximum hours on weekdays or SaturdaysMaximum hours on Sundays
13 – 14 year olds2552
15 – 16 year olds3582

Other general rules for 13–16 year olds are that:

🟨 They cannot work before 7am and after 7pm.

🟨 They must have a break from work of at least two weeks a year.

🟨 They must have a rest break of one hour for every four hours worked.

A common myth is that these rules do not apply if a worker is a child or relation of the employer but this is incorrect and you are subject to the same criteria – including applying for a work permit – as you would be for any other young person that works for you. 

Over school leaving age

Somebody over the minimum school leaving age but under 18 is classed as a ‘young worker’ and the rules change slightly. For example, they cannot usually work more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours a week. They’re also not limited to light work, so you’ll be allowed to move them into the kitchen  but jobs involving the use of sharp knives or chippers or peelers will most likely be prohibited.

There are circumstances when children aged 16 or 17 are allowed to sell or serve alcohol but, again, this is where local bylaws come into play so it’s best to check with your local authority.

Generally speaking, young workers can’t work between 10pm and 6am, however, exceptions are made for catering if other conditions are met. Again, seek clarity from your local authority.

Additional rules also dictate:

🟨 A 30-minute break if their working day is longer than 4.5 hours.

🟨 12 hours’ rest in any 24-hour period in which they work (for example, between one working day and the next).

🟨 48 hours’ (2 days) rest taken together, each week or – if there is a good business reason why this is not possible – at least 36 hours’ rest, with the remaining 12 hours taken as soon as possible afterwards.


There is no minimum pay for children under the age of 16 and they do not pay National Insurance, so you only need to include them on your payroll if their total income is over their Personal Allowance. 

Workers aged 16-18 years are entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage, which is currently £4.55 per hour and £4.15 an hour for apprentices. 

Once someone reaches 18, adult employment rights and rules apply.

It’s important to remember that you have the same responsibilities for a young person’s health, safety and welfare, as you do for other employees over the age of 18. 

You will need to carry out a full risk assessment, taking into account the inexperience, lack of awareness of risks and immaturity of the child/young person. The key findings and the control measures introduced should then be shared with the parent/guardian of the child.

We can’t stress enough the importance of working with your local authority on this one. Please do not assume anything, do not try and interpret the regulations in any way to suit you and certainly don’t base your decision on what another shop may be doing or what someone else has told you.

Also speak to your insurance company and check you are covered for employing child/young workers. Even here the rules vary between insurance providers so seek clarification and ask for evidence in writing so you have a paper trail. And, of course, make sure that what your insurance provider tells you tallies up with what your local authority has said.

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