Whether you already work on a zero hour contract, are due to start one or are looking for work which only offers a zero hour contract, it's important to understand what they are and what they actually mean to you.

What exactly is a zero hour contract?

A zero hour contract is when work is offered to you as and when an employer needs you.

This request to work does not need to be accepted by you, but if you refuse it the employer is under no obligation to offer you future work.

Due to the way zero hour contracts are offered, there is never a time when you are guaranteed work or a fixed income.

What are the pros and cons of zero hour's contracts?

Every cloud has a silver lining, and we look at how you could stand to benefit from working a zero hour contract as well as the pitfalls to look out for.

Pros of a zero hour contract:

Flexibility - If you are faced with a request to work a shift that isn't worth your while, then you can just turn it down. This pro can quickly turn into a con though if you consistently refuse to work and could put your zero hour contract in jeopardy.

Free time - As you won't be working long hours over the week you can use your free time for self-development. If you don't have the necessary skills to pursue a new career or just want to learn valuable skills which could lead you to a permanent job then you can use websites such as GOV.uk to find skills and training available across the UK.

Freedom to find extra work - If you aren't being offered regular hours as part of your zero hour contract, then you have the freedom to look elsewhere.

Previously, you were tied to working for one employer through a zero hour contract due to an exclusivity clause, this restricted you from working for anyone else; regardless of how little you were being asked to work.

Thankfully this is no longer the case so you can continue searching for another job while still working under the terms of your zero hour contract - to help you find additional employment, you can use the GOV.uk website.

More jobs to apply for - A zero hour contract is often all a business can offer a job seeker based on their own budgetary restrictions and there are a growing number of businesses in the UK that are offering zero hour contracts.

This can actually benefit you because it means you have a wider variety of job roles available to apply for and a better chance to get valuable experience in the industry you want to work in.

Improve your C.V. - When working in any job role it's important to remember that any experience is positive, especially on your C.V.

When you apply for future jobs, employers will favour you if you have a continuous history of work experience compared to someone who hasn't worked for a prolonged period of time.

By taking a zero hour contract you can show future employers this continuous employment record.

A chance of permanent work - Some companies reward hard working 'zero hour contract workers' with permanent or fixed contracts after they've proven themselves. This means that working hard during your contract really can help you land a steady income.

The best ways to show your employer that you are worth keeping around for the long term is being punctual, dressing appropriately for your role, keeping a polite manner and accepting any extra responsibilities that are asked of you. Read our guide How To Turn a Temporary Job into A Permanent One for further ideas on how to impress your employer.

Cons of a zero hour contract:

No fixed income - With no set hours to work, the amount you earn will vary week to week, so while you might have lots of work one week you might find yourself with much less the next.

In this situation, it's possible to find financial help through benefits. To find out what benefits you are entitled to just visit the GOV.uk website.

Feeling undervalued - Working in a zero hour contract means that you'll miss out on benefits that full time or permanent employees will get as standard, such as a pension and redundancy rights.

This can leave you feeling undervalued, especially if you are working to the same level as those with extra company benefits.

Constantly on-call - Not knowing when you'll work can make you feel restricted, especially if you are balancing more than one job, or if you have other responsibilities such as picking the kids up from school.

While you won't work set hours while on a zero hour contract you can still explain to your employer when you can and can't work will allow you the peace of mind to know that any hours offered to you will fall on a schedule that will suit you more often than not.

Damaging to your social life - If you don't want to miss out on work from your employer, you may find yourself waiting at home and turning down your normal social activities.

Plus, if you don't have the income to support an active social life, then this can seem understandable, but don't restrict yourself so much that you forget what you're working for.

Struggle with bills - Zero hour contracts don't offer you a stable cash flow which means you may find yourself struggling to keep up with the ever increasing cost of your household bills.

What's the verdict?

Whichever way you look at zero hour contracts they clearly have positives and negatives, so it's really up to you to make the best of them. If you can focus on learning new skills and working hard, even if the job is temporary, you will continue to look employable and push yourself closer to a permanent job role.

If you feel that you are working hard and still not getting anywhere, then read our guide Working from home: how to make your millions in your PJs which can give you an insight into ways to make money on your own.

Managing your money on a zero hour contract

While working a zero hour contract you can try to reduce your monthly household outgoings by shopping around for more cost effective deals.

Compare the following utility bills using our comparison tables to cut your outgoings:

  1. Gas

  2. Electricity

  3. Broadband

You can also find ways to save on your water bills by reading our guide 5 Easy Ways to Save Money on Your Water Bill.

Free support for you

Working a zero hour contract can be stressful and depressing, especially if you feel undervalued or unwanted by your employer due to a lack of working hours offered to you or a lack of recognition for the work you put in.

Though these feelings can hit anyone in any job role or social situation, it's important to know that help is available. Here are some of the most commonly used free support helplines: