National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage - volunteers and voluntary workers

Definition of voluntary worker for minimum wage purposes

Guide

Voluntary workers are workers who do not qualify for the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.

A voluntary worker works for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body or a statutory body who does not receive:

  • any benefits in kind, except some or all of his subsistence and/or accommodation which is reasonable in the circumstances of the employment, nor
  • any monetary payment, except
  • reimbursement of expenses actually incurred (or reasonably estimated as likely to be or to have been incurred) in the performance of their duties, for example purchase of required uniform or tools, or
  • reimbursement of expenses actually incurred (or reasonably estimated as likely to be or to have been incurred) to enable the worker to perform their duties and that are not accommodation expenses, for example home to work transport costs or increased childcare costs.

The only exception to these conditions is where the voluntary worker is employed to work under arrangements made by a charity (in the course of its charitable purposes) and the work is done for another charity, voluntary organisation, an associated fund-raising body or statutory body. In these circumstances the subsistence may be paid instead of provided as a benefit in kind.

For example:

A voluntary worker who works for a charity which specialises in placements with a hospital or charitable care home can receive money to cover subsistence at the placement.

Subsistence for minimum wage purposes means such subsistence as is reasonable in the circumstances of the employment in question, and does not include accommodation.

There is no definition of what constitutes a reasonably estimated expense. So unless only actual costs have been reimbursed, a common-sense judgement should be taken to decide if the payment for expenses would be appropriate and realistically incurred in each individual worker's employment. This will be particularly important where an employer is paying expenses as 'round sum allowances' because there is a risk that some voluntary workers will receive expenses greater than can be realistically incurred.

Training is regarded as a benefit in kind unless it is:

  • acquired as a result of doing the job; or
  • is provided for the sole or main purpose of improving the worker's immediate ability to do the job

Any other arrangements for payment or provision of benefits in kind, such as unreasonable expenses or training which is not required to perform the job, are likely to indicate that the person does not satisfy the conditions for the voluntary worker exemption and will qualify for the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.