1. Summary

This article contains estimates of the number of people in employment in the UK on contracts where they are not guaranteed any hours in a given week, also known as "zero-hours contracts". It comprises the latest figures from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) for the period October to December 2016. Updated estimates from the business survey, relating to November 2016, will be published as part of the regular update of the 'Contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours' report in May 2017.

The number of people employed on “zero-hours contracts” in their main job, according to the LFS, during October to December 2016 was 905,000, representing 2.8% of all people in employment. This latest estimate is 101,000 higher than that for October to December 2015 (804,000 or 2.5% of people in employment). In recent years, increases in the number of people reporting to the LFS that they were on a zero-hours contract were likely to have been affected by greater awareness and recognition of the term “zero-hours contract”. This latest annual change may also have been affected in this way but it is not possible to estimate the extent.

People on “zero-hours contracts” are more likely to be young, part-time, women, or in full-time education when compared with other people in employment. On average, someone on a “zero-hours contract” usually works 25 hours a week. Around 1 in 3 people (32%) on a “zero-hours contract” want more hours, with most wanting them in their current job, as opposed to a different job that offers more hours. In comparison, 9% of other people in employment wanted more hours.

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2. Introduction

This article updates previous analysis on “zero-hours contracts” that we published on 8 September 2016. This article contains the latest figures from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which cover the period October to December 2016.

What are “zero-hours contracts”?

There is no single agreed definition of what “zero-hours contracts” are. While some contracts are explicitly called zero-hours contracts, there are other definitions available and used in published statistics. The common element to the definitions is the lack of a guaranteed minimum number of hours.

When developing the survey of businesses, we consulted on the definition to be used and decided on the lack of any guaranteed hours. To provide clarity and prevent confusion with the other estimates of “zero-hours contracts”, the remainder of this article refers to estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) business survey as no guaranteed hours contracts.

When comparing figures from the ONS business survey with the LFS estimates, a number of issues need to be considered:

  • the LFS counts people who report that their main employment is a “zero-hours contract”
  • the estimate from businesses is counting contracts; this will be greater than the number of people as people can have more than one contract
  • estimates from businesses will include contracts that cover a variety of working arrangements; this will include instances where people in their main employment are working a regular number of hours a week (although these hours are not guaranteed by their contract) as well those who work on an irregular basis due to personal choice, availability of work or to fit in around their main employment
  • employers are likely to be more aware of their employees’ formal contractual arrangements and this may differ from the perception of employees if their normal working hours are relatively stable or if changes in hours are mainly as a result of personal choice
  • there may be multiple contracts for each job in the business survey

Updated estimates from the business survey, relating to May 2016 and November 2016, will be published as part of the regular update of the 'Contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours' report in May 2017.

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3. How many no guaranteed hours contracts are there?

This section looks at the latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) for the period October to December 2016. Estimates from surveys are, due to sampling error, subject to a degree of uncertainty. Where available, an indication of the level of uncertainty is provided in Annex 1.

Labour Force Survey

The LFS samples around 40,000 households each 3-month period and collects information about people’s employment status. One of the questions on the LFS, asked of people in employment, relates to special working arrangements that vary daily or weekly. Respondents can choose up to 3 different arrangements from a list of 8 options, one of which is “zero hours contracts” defined as “where a person is not contracted to work a set number of hours, and is only paid for the number of hours that they actually work”.

As the LFS is based on respondents’ views about their working arrangements and counts people rather than contracts, it is likely that any estimate of “zero-hours contracts” from the LFS will be less than an estimate obtained from businesses. The number of people the LFS classes as being on a “zero-hours contract” will be those who:

  • are employed (have done at least one hour of paid work in the week before they were interviewed or reported that they were temporarily away from their job)
  • report that their working arrangements in their main employment include some form of flexibility
  • recognise that the flexibility of their working arrangements is a result of being on a “zero-hours contract”

Therefore, the people identified by the LFS as being on a “zero-hours contract” will be those in employment who are aware that their contract allows for them to be offered no hours. This might exclude some people who select another option, such as on-call working, although they have the opportunity to report a “zero-hours contract” as well.

The latest estimate from the LFS shows that 905,000 people reported that they were on a “zero-hours contract” in the period October to December 2016, representing 2.8% of people in employment. This is 13% higher than the reported figure from the same period in 2015 (804,000 or 2.5% of people in employment). In recent years, increases in the number of people reporting to the LFS that they were on a zero-hours contract were likely to have been affected by greater awareness and recognition of the term “zero-hours contract”. This latest annual change may also have been affected in this way but it is not possible to estimate the extent.

Figure 1 shows the number of people in employment reporting that they are on a “zero-hours contract” from 2000 to 2016. Comparisons with 2012 and earlier years are complicated by a large increase between 2012 and 2013 that appeared to be mainly due to increased recognition of “zero-hours contracts”. This change was covered in a previous ONS report published on 30 April 2014.

When looking at the length of time in current job, all of the increase in “zero-hours contracts” is from people in their job for more than a year; while there was a small decrease for those less than 12 months. This could reflect either increased recognition or people moving on to a “zero-hours contract” with the same employer (see Figure 2).

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4. What are the characteristics of people employed on “zero-hours contracts”?

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) can provide additional information about the type of people who report that their main employment is on a “zero-hours contract”.

Who are they?

Looking at the type of people who report that they are employed on a “zero-hours contract” compared with other people in employment shows that there are differences in the type of people on “zero-hours contracts” (Figures 3 and 4) and the industries they work in (Figure 5a and 5b). For October to December 2016:

  • women make up a bigger proportion of those reporting working on “zero-hours contracts” (52%) compared with women in employment not on “zero-hours contracts” (47%)
  • people who report being on a “zero-hours contract” are more likely to be at the youngest end of the age range; 33% of people on “zero-hours contracts” are aged 16 to 24 (compared with 12% for all people in employment not on a “zero-hours contract”)
  • 18% of people on “zero-hours contracts” are in full-time education compared with 3% of other people in employment
  • 22% people in employment on a “zero-hours contract” are in the accommodation and food industry
  • 11% of people employed in the accommodation and food industry are on a “zero-hours contract”

These characteristics have shown little change over recent years with the patterns partly reflecting the groups most likely to find the flexibility of “zero-hours contracts” an advantage, for example, young people who combine flexible working with their studies.

Hours worked and flexibility

The actual hours recorded are the hours worked by an individual during the survey reference week. The majority of people on “zero-hours contracts” (65%) reported that they worked part-time, compared with 26% of other workers. This means that the average actual weekly hours worked in their main job, by someone on a “zero-hours contract” are lower at 22.0 per week compared with the average actual weekly hours for all workers at 31.8. This shows a similar pattern to usual hours worked, that is, the weekly hours usually worked throughout the year, which were 25.2 and 36.4 for people on “zero-hours contracts” and all workers respectively.

In October to December 2016, of people on “zero-hours contracts” 14% worked no hours in the week before their LFS interview compared with 11% of other workers.

Comparing usual and actual hours, Figure 6 shows the differences between actual and usual hours worked for people on “zero-hours contracts” and other workers. For October to December 2016:

  • 43% of people on “zero-hours contracts” worked their usual hours compared with 58% of other workers
  • 35% of people on “zero-hours contracts” worked less than their usual hours compared with 30% of other workers
  • 22% of people on “zero-hours contracts” worked more than their usual hours compared with 12% of other workers

Around a third (32%) of people on “zero-hours contracts” want more hours compared with 9% of people in employment not on a zero-hours contract, though this could be linked to a higher proportion of “zero-hours contract” jobs being part-time. Looking in more detail, 9% of people on “zero-hours contracts” would like a different job with more hours compared with 1% for other people in employment (the remainder would like more hours in their current job or an additional job) (Figure 7).

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5. Quality and methodology

The Labour Force Survey Quality and Methodology Information document contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data
  • the quality of the output: including the accuracy of the data and how it compares with related data
  • uses and users
  • how the output was created
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6 .Annex 1 – Measures of uncertainty

Labour Force Survey

The estimate of 905,000 people employed on “zero-hour contracts” has a 95% confidence interval of plus or minus 69,000, which means the true figure is likely to lie between 836,000 and 975,000.

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Contact details for this Article

Mark Chandler
mark.chandler@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455995