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Recent changes in employment law in NI from April 2021

13 April 2021

Set out below are various employment law changes due to come into effect from April 2021 in Northern Ireland.

National minimum wage:

Prior to April 2021, people aged 25 and over were entitled to receive the National Living Wage. From 1 April 2021, this applies to those who are aged 23 and over.

The new minimum wage rates applicable to eligible workers in Northern Ireland from 1 April 2021 are as follows:

   2020/21 2021/22
 National Living Wage (23 years old and over)  £8.72  £8.91
 National Minimum Wage adult rate (21-22 years old)  £8.20  £8.36
 National Minimum Wage (18-20 years old)  £6.45  £6.56
 National Minimum Wage (16-17 years old)  £4.55  £4.62
 National Minimum Wage (apprentice rate)*  £4.15  £4.30
 Accommodation Offset (per day)  £8.20  £8.36

*Apprentices under the age of 19, or aged 19 and over and in the first year of their apprenticeship, are entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £4.30 per hour (this rate does not apply to Higher Level Apprenticeships). Apprentices are entitled to the minimum wage for their age if they are both aged 19 or over and have completed the first year of their apprenticeship.

In addition to the increase in minimum wage rates, from 1 April 2021 the time period for which employers must keep NLW/NMW records increased from three years to six years.

Agricultural workers:

Agricultural workers in Northern Ireland are entitled to the Agricultural Minimum Wage rates, rather than the NMW or NLW, unless the NMW or NLW rate is higher.

No worker can be paid less than the NMW or NLW, but some agricultural workers must be paid more than the NMW or NLW because there is a higher Agricultural Minimum Wage rate.

The Agricultural Wages Board minimum rates from 1 April 2021 are:

 Grade 2020/21 2021/22
 Grade 1 – minimum rate applicable for the first 40 weeks cumulative  £6.88  £6.95
 Grade 2 – standard worker  £7.42  £7.49 
 Grade 3 – lead worker  £8.82  £8.91
 Grade 4 – craft grade  £9.49  £9.58
 Grade 5 – supervisory grade  £9.99  £10.09
 Grade 6 – farm management grade  £10.84  £10.95

NB – These are the minimum hourly rates before tax and national insurance deductions.

Other changes to statutory pay & financial awards:

  • Statutory family leave payments – from 4 April 2021 the rate of statutory maternity pay, paternity pay, adoption pay, shared parental leave and parental bereavement pay increased from £151.20 to £151.97 per week, with a minimum earnings threshold of £120 per week.
  • Statutory sick pay – from 6 April 2021 the rate of SSP increased from £95.85 to £96.35, again with a minimum earnings threshold of £120 per week.
  • The financial award for compensation for unfair dismissal currently £88,693 increased to £89,669 on 6 April 2021 (there is no 52 week cap in NI unlike GB).
  • The maximum amount of “a week’s pay” for calculating redundancy payments and various other awards including the basic award for unfair dismissal will increase from £560 per week to £566 per week on 6 April 2021 (compared to £544 in GB).

IR35 update:

Reforms to the IR35 rules on off-payroll working in the private sector come into force on 6 April 2021. The rules are aimed at reducing tax avoidance for contractors employed via personal service companies.

The responsibility for assessing whether the IR35 rules apply to contractors moves away from the contractor and instead to the engaging business who must issue an employment status determination.

Off- Payroll Working Rules:

  • From 6 April 2021, all public sector clients and medium or large-sized private sector clients will be responsible for determining a worker’s employment status. This includes some charities and third sector organisations.
  • If the off-payroll working rules apply, the worker’s fees will be subject to tax and National Insurance contributions.

Please contact a member of the team if you require assistance reviewing your current contractual arrangements to ensure compliance.

Gender pay gap reporting:

Whilst annual gender pay gap reporting is now a legal requirement in GB for companies with 250 employees or more, the relevant provisions set out in the Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 continue to await implementation by the Northern Ireland Executive.

It is likely that in 2021 we will see the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland pushing the Executive to move to implement these regulations to bring the region in line with the rest of the UK.


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