The National Apprenticeship Service is investigating claims that apprentices are regularly working “over and above their contracted hours”.

UnionLearn, the learning and skills organisation of the Trades Union Congress, has reported that apprentices are breaking their contracts by doing their contracted hours in the workplace — and then studying on top without pay.

A UnionLearn spokesperson said the practice was happening largely with 30-hour contract apprenticeships. Learners would spend four days in the workplace — using up all their contracted hours — and then a fifth studying for their apprenticeship.

“We’ve got concerns that training providers and employers are failing to deal with this problem. The question is whether there’s intent or not to exploit young people,” said the spokesperson.

Tom Wilson (pictured), director of UnionLearn, said: “It is essential that apprentices are protected and valued.

“Apprenticeships are a vital way to ensure that people are learning the skills needed for the UK economy and that they are receiving quality training that will lead to them being highly employable.

“Pay is an essential component of valuing our apprentices. If they are not receiving at least the minimum they are owed, the whole concept of apprenticeships is devalued.

“Given the importance the government has placed on increasing apprenticeships, we know that protecting their ‘brand’ is essential.”

A spokesperson for the service said it would “assess” evidence to see if there was a problem.

“We have been made aware by UnionLearn that . . . some apprentices are working over and above their contracted hours without additional recompense,” she said.

“We are committed to the delivery of high quality apprenticeships and require all apprenticeships to be delivered in line with the requirements set out in the Apprenticeship framework and the Statement on Apprenticeship Quality.

“We are talking to UnionLearn, and once the details and evidence of these claims has been assessed, we will work with colleagues across the Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to take appropriate action.”