Pay rates: The lowdown

Pay rates: The lowdown

By Rob Fred Parker 05/03/13

Continuing our Pay Debate series, Rob Fred Parker rounds up essential information on wages, intern pay, freelance fees and organisations that offer  guidance.... 

The expectation that you'll work for little or no financial reward is rife in the creative industries. In our members' survey, 91% of respondents said they had worked for free at some point. Now more than ever, it’s important to be clear how much your time and creative efforts are worth.



The National Minimum Wage is set by the government as the rate employers must legally pay someone classified as a 'worker' – an individual who has a contractual obligation to carry out work or services personally for an employer. The current wages are:

  • 21 and over: £6.19
  • 18 to 20: £4.28
  • Under 16: £3.68
  • Apprentice: £2.60 (This applies to apprentices under 19 or in their first year of the apprenticeship. Those 19 or over, or past their first year, get the rate that applies to their age).  

The Living Wage Foundation calculates the basic cost of living in the UK. While it's not a legal obligation, increasing numbers of employers are choosing to pay Living Wage as good practice. The current rates are: 

  • London: £8.55
  • Rest of the UK: £7.45



Arts Council England's guide to internships outlines how they differ from voluntary work, work experience and apprenticeships. The key distinction is that an intern will have "a defined role and job title" and "contribute to the work of the organisation, rather than taking on a purely shadowing role".  If an intern fulfils worker status (see above) the employer has a legal duty to pay them at least National Minimum Wage.

If you think you should be paid for an internship, HMRC can investigate claims up to six years after the date of alleged underpayment. See this example of an intern winning the right to be recognised as a paid worker and visit Intern Aware's website for guidance on this subject.


Freelance rates

Rates for freelancers vary according to discipline, location and experience. When Faithless' Maxi Jazz first started out he'd take any fee he was offered for DJ sets, but he soon found that setting a higher fee for himself also increased his value in the eyes of promoters, kick-starting his career.

Costume designer House of Johnson advises: "I either charge 400% of cost price, or cost plus £15 a hour – whichever is the higher figure. For repeat clients, I negotiate a price per 'look' based on the sort of pieces I'm making for them and what they can afford, because regular work at a smaller margin is just as important when it comes to paying the rent."  

Ross Aitken of Iconik Films warns against becoming fixated on hourly rates when you’re starting out, because "it's too depressing" but he stresses that you should note down all expenses you can reclaim. Similarly, events co-ordinator Charlotte Bailey recommends you should "figure out how much you're going to spend on the job, such as transport and equipment" to make sure it's worth your while.


Read on for links to guidance on calculating your own pay rates:



BECTU is the media and entertainment union. Their website features handy guides to pay rates for film and TV productions and background artists.  

Equity is the trade union for performing artists and creative practitioners.  See their guidance on pay rates, and their Low Pay/No Play guidelines for television. 

Televisual is a magazine focusing on film and TV production. Their reports and surveys include an examination of TV pay rates.


Acting & Performing Arts 

HervL Supporting Artistes is a casting and management company. See their rates of pay for supporting actors.

International Theatre Council is a management association and industry-led body. Check out their rates of pay. 

Musician's Union offers advice and resources to musicians. See their rates of pay and other handy resources.  



Artquest assists artists in selling their work and networking. Their site features articles on a range of topics, including pricing your artwork.  

Freelance: uk is a website offering resources for freelance photographers on topics including selling your work, as well as general legal tips for freelancers.

London Freelance provides guidance on photographing in London, including pay rates.


Visual Arts & Design

a-n is the Artists Information Company. Have a look at their pay rates, pay-rate study, FAQs regarding paying artists, guide to negotiating, and sample day rates.

Arts Council England offers support and funding for artistic initiatives. Take a look at their advice on paying artists.

Design Industry Voices co-ordinate the Design Industry Voices Survey, examining state of industry and rates of pay.  

The Guardian has a guide to pay rates.

Scottish Artists Union has a guide to typical pay rates for visual and applied artists in Scotland.


Writing & Publishing

London Freelance offers guidance for freelancers, including pay rates.

Society of Editors and Proofreaders has a website which includes a section on suggested pay rates.

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain was established to support writers across mediums. Their site features an overview of guidelines on rates and script agreements.


Image: moneybags by boxchain on a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. 

For more money-related articles, visit our finance hub.

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