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Zero hour contracts: The pros and cons

If you have a zero hour contract or are about to start one, you should weigh up the pros and cons and work out if it's worth it. Here's what you need to know.

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What is a zero-hour contract?

It is when work is offered to you as and when an employer needs you.

You don't have to accept this request to work, but if you refuse the employer is under no obligation to offer you future work.

You are not guaranteed work or a fixed income if you sign a zero-hours contract.

What are the pros and cons?

Updated 21 April 2020
FlexibilityNo fixed income
Freedom to get other workMay miss out on benefits
More choiceAlways on call
Improve your CVDamage to social life
May lead to permanent workStruggle with bills

Pros of a zero-hour contract

  • Flexibility: If you are asked to work a shift that isn't worth your while, you can turn it down. This can quickly turn into a con though if you consistently refuse to work and could put your contract at risk.

  • Freedom to find extra work: If you aren't getting regular hours, you can look elsewhere. Exclusivity clauses in zero-hour contracts that restrict you from working somewhere else are now banned. To help you find extra work you can use GOV.UK.

  • More jobs to apply for: A zero-hour contract is often all a business can offer based on their own budgetary restrictions. This means you have a wider variety of job roles to apply for, and possibly a better chance to get valuable experience.

  • Improve your CV: It's important to remember that any experience is positive, especially on your CV. 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.

  • A chance of permanent work: Some companies reward hard-working zero-hour contract workers with permanent or fixed contracts. This means that working hard during your contract could help you land a steady income. Here is more on how to turn a temporary Job into a permanent one.

Cons of a zero-hour contract

  • No fixed income: With no set hours how much you earn will vary each week. 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.

  • Missing out on benefits: Working a zero-hour contract means you'll miss out on benefits that full time or permanent employees get as standard, like 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 have more than one job, or other responsibilities. While you can't get set hours with a zero-hour contract, you could explain when you can work to your employer, to try avoid being offered shifts you can't take.

  • 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.

  • Struggle with bills: Zero-hour contracts don't offer a stable cash flow. This means if you are short of work you may struggle to keep up with your household bills. Try to set aside some funds on the weeks when you have lots of work to cover the weeks where shifts are harder to come by.

What's the verdict?

Zero-hour contracts have both pros and cons, so it depends on if they suit your needs.

If you can focus on learning new skills, 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, our guide on working from home could 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.

Use our comparison tables to cut your outgoings:

Save money on your water bill with these 5 tips

Free support for you

Working a zero-hour contract can be stressful and depressing, especially if you feel undervalued or unwanted by your employer.

While these feelings can hit anyone in any job role or social situation, it's important to know that help is available.

Here are some common free support helplines:

If you are worried about your employment, compare income protection plans to find the best cover, so you will be protected should the worse happen.