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

Voluntary workers' accommodation or subsistence payments and the minimum wage

Guide

For National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage purposes subsistence is generally taken to mean things like food, drink, laundry, basic toiletries, medicine, heating, lighting or other basic day to day needs in the circumstances of the employment, or in this case the voluntary role.

Subsistence payments must:

  • be solely for the purposes of providing subsistence and not provide an income on top of subsistence
  • be an appropriate amount to provide the basic day to day needs of the individual in the circumstances of the voluntary work they are doing
  • not include payment for their own accommodation - you can provide voluntary workers with reasonable accommodation in the circumstances of their voluntary work, but you cannot give them money to find or pay for their own accommodation

You must be able to demonstrate how you have reached the appropriate level of subsistence for the voluntary work in question. For instance, someone living in a bed and breakfast for the duration of the voluntary work with no access to cooking facilities may need more money to cover food and drink expenses than someone who is living at home. However, they would be unlikely to need money for heating and lighting as this would be provided by the bed and breakfast.

You should also consider the other expenses and benefits in kind that the voluntary worker is receiving. For example, if breakfast is being provided to a voluntary worker then subsistence payments should not include money for breakfast.

Voluntary workers engaged through agreements

A voluntary worker may receive monetary payment for subsistence if they are engaged as a result of arrangements made between a charity acting in pursuance of its charitable objectives and another charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund raising body or statutory body. These arrangements might include, for example, recruitment, funding and brokering arrangements.

Voluntary workers engaged directly

Where a voluntary worker is engaged directly by a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fund-raising body or statutory body they can be provided with reasonable subsistence in the circumstances of their employment, but cannot be paid money for it. If a voluntary worker who is engaged directly is given payments for subsistence, the voluntary worker exemption will not apply and they are entitled to the minimum wage.

Example scenario

Following her application to a coordinating charity, Nikita has been placed full time with an environmental group in the Scottish Highlands. Nikita is given a room in a shared house.

She receives subsistence payments from the organisation to pay her share of food and energy bills, her laundry and her toiletries. She receives no other payments.

The extent of payments that Nikita receives means she is a worker. However, Nikita may qualify for the voluntary worker exemption. She is working as a result of arrangements made between a charity and a voluntary organisation and in such circumstances voluntary workers may receive monetary payment for subsistence provided it is reasonable in the circumstances.

Each case would be dealt with based on its individual facts and consideration would be given to whether the level of payment was for subsistence or to provide an income on top. The payments for Nikita's subsistence are reasonable in the circumstances of her employment so she is a voluntary worker who is not entitled to the minimum wage.