In today’s English lesson, you will learn advanced vocabulary for talking about work in the UK. The words we are going to learn will be useful if you work in the UK or are considering doing so in the future. Find out the meaning of ‘National Insurance number’, ‘sole trader’, ‘zero-hours contract’ and plenty more by watching today’s lesson…

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Working in the UK

We begin today’s advanced vocabulary lesson with an important word that is tied to a person’s ability to work in the UK…

National Insurance Number Meaning

A National Insurance number is required to legally work in the UK. It’s a unique number that is personally linked to you, which is used for keeping track of your pension contributions. British citizens receive their National Insurance number just before their sixteenth birthday.

A UK National Insurance Numbercard.

We will now learn advanced vocabulary for describing the different types of work that are possible in the UK.

Permanent Employee Meaning

A permanent employee of a company is entitled to full workers benefits, including sick pay, maternity leave, and redundancy pay. They also have the right to unionise and strike if they are unhappy with their working conditions. When a permanent employee wants to resign from a job, they must ‘give notice’ (idiom) to their employer, which means they are not allowed to suddenly quit their job.

Permanent employees are paid via the PAYE (Pay As You Earn) system for paying salaries, in which the employer deducts taxes and sends them directly to HMRC (the tax authority of the UK government).

Worker Meaning

In informal conversation, ’employee’ and ‘worker’ are used interchangeably. However, from a tax and legal perspective, the definitions are different. The definition of a worker is someone who works for a company on a more casual basis than a permanent employee. The employer usually doesn’t guarantee the worker a fixed number of hours, therefore the worker has the right to refuse work or take other jobs.

Workers have basic employment rights such as holiday pay and protection against discrimination. They must also be paid at least the minimum wage.

Self-employed Meaning

Being ‘self-employed’ (adj) means working for oneself, rather than for an employer. Unlike permanent employees, self-employed people are responsible for handling their own tax. Every year they must submit a self-assessment form, which is used to calculate how much tax is owed to the government.

Self-employed people are sometimes referred to as a group, as in ‘the self-employed’. The self-employed work for themselves, therefore they are only entitled to minimal employment rights. Like all workers, they have the legal right to be protected from discrimination and to have safe working conditions when on client premises.

Interestingly, the self-employed are the only UK workers to which the minimum wage rules don’t apply. When all the hours spent working on the business are added up and expenses deducted, the self-employed worker may find they have earned less than the minimum wage. This is especially the case for self-employed people who are establishing new businesses or whose work is low-skilled.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the median UK self-employed wage in 2018-19 was 30% less than what employees earned. Over half of the self-employed in the UK earn less than £300 per week, but at the other end of the scale, some of them earn high wages.

Freelancer Meaning

A freelancer is a self-employed person who works on a project basis providing services to different businesses. Work is often creative or technical in nature. People don’t usually refer to themselves as being freelancers, instead they use the adjective ‘freelance’, as in ‘I’m a freelance web designer’.

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Independent Contractor and IR35 Legislation Meaning

An independent contractor is a self-employed worker who has a contract to work with a company on a project basis. The independent contractor operates via a limited company, which used to have special tax advantages for both the employer and contractor, until the introduction of IR35 legislation ended this.

Sole Trader Meaning

A sole trader refers to a self-employed person who runs their business as an individual, without having formally set up a company. The word ‘sole’ derives from the Latin word ‘sōlus‘, meaning ‘alone’ or ‘lonely’. The sole trader must work alone, in the sense that they are not allowed to have employees.

Unlike self-employed people who have established limited companies, sole traders are liable for all business debts because in this arrangement ‘the person is the business’.

Zero-hours Contract Meaning

A zero-hours contract is an employment contract in which the employer doesn’t guarantee the worker a minimum number of hours per week. Employees working on zero-hours contracts have basic employment rights, but lack the stability of earning a regular wage.

Temp Meaning

A temp is an employee with a contract to work temporarily for a company, for up to a year. Their hourly rate of pay is usually more than what permanent members of staff get. But on the downside, temps lack job security; temps don’t get any sick or redundancy pay from their employer. Another difference between temps and permanent members of staff is that temps are normally recruited and managed via a temping agency.

Cash in hand Meaning

‘Cash in hand’ (British English phrase) refers to payment for work that isn’t reported to HMRC (the tax department of the UK government). This type of work is illegal in the UK.

Pay Slip Meaning

A payslip is a document that provides information about how much pay an employee received. A worker’s payslip also lists any deductions that were made from their salary via the PAYE system, such as National Insurance, income tax and student loan repayments.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning advanced English vocabulary for talking about work. For lessons on related topics, be sure to check out the links below.

Extend Your Learning

▶︎ Learn advanced vocabulary about Pay and Salary in the UK.

▶︎ Watch my lesson on How to Pronounce ‘Albeit’.

▶︎ Learn How to Give Constructive Criticism.


Jade Joddle grows your confidence and skill to shine when speaking English.

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