More than 26,000 workers denied the national minimum wage by their employers have received a £4m windfall, according to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
It says its investigated 1,693 complaints against employers for allegedly breaching minimum wage rules in the last year.
They resulted in 708 employers receiving automatic penalty charges of up to £5,000 and 26,519 employees receiving an average of £300 in back pay, topping up wages that had previously been paid below the legal minimum rate.
The South Central team, based in Oxford and Portsmouth, handled cases resulting in arrears of £1,184,453 being paid back and charged 56 employers with penalties.
Employment Minister, Jo Swinson said: "Paying less than the minimum wage is totally unacceptable. Whenever we find examples of businesses breaking the law we will crack down on them. Supporting fairness in the workplace is one of our key priorities. and the National Minimum Wage is one way of making sure this happens."
The cases included:
A Hampshire distribution company that required its workers to carry out door-to-dor deliveries. They were ordered to pay arrears of wages exceeding £60,000 for over 600 workers.
A Hampshire further education establishment incorrectly treating their workers as volunteers. They were ordered to pay wage arrears exceeding £690,000 to over 100 workers.
A Berkshire retailer making deductions from wages which reduced National Minimum Wage pay. They were ordered to pay arrears exceeding £12,000 to seven workers.
A Berkshire advertising agency that incorrectly paid their workers below the National Minimum Wage. They were ordered to pay arrears exceeding £15,000 for five workers.
A major fashion chain ordered to pay their 90 unpaid interns almost £60,000.
A multi-outlet retailer, which required employees to purchase specific items of clothing from their range, ordered to repay almost £170,000 for over 6,000 workers.
Michelle Wyer, Assistant Director of HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team, said: “Paying the National Minimum Wage is not a choice – it’s the law. HMRC enforces the rules, protecting workers in the South and South East.
“Where an employer ignores these rules, we will take steps to ensure arrears are paid out in full and the employer fined. In the most serious cases, criminal prosecution can follow.”
Anyone who believes they are not being paid national minimum wage can call the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 9172368. Currently calls to the helpline from interns, who are working for nothing or for “expenses only”, are being fast-tracked to HMRC enforcement officers for investigation.