6. Payments to Students, Visiting Academics, and Volunteers

See also:

6.5 Volunteers and subject payments

(a) General rules for volunteers

Income tax is only chargeable on an individual providing services where that individual:

  • holds an office or an employment; and
  • receives earnings from that office or employment.

In this context, an office holder includes any individual elected or appointed under the constitution of any body (including sports and social clubs, honorary positions, etc.). Earnings can mean payment in kind or cash.

Where office holders or volunteers who do not hold any post, office or employment with the University, receive only reimbursement of expenses incurred (e.g. for travel that can include travel between home and the place where the activities of the office take place) such payments are not treated as earnings and, thereby, fall outside of any deductions for tax or National Insurance. Such expenses should be claimed using the Expenses Procedures.

Where office holders receive payment in return for holding that office, including round-sum payments to cover time spent, then this is usually a taxable arrangement and should be paid via Payroll.

Special considerations exist for payments to volunteers in clinical trials or research studies.

(b) Payments to volunteers in clinical trials and research studies

In 2004 the former Inland Revenue agreed the following principles with the British Universities Finance Directors' Group.

"In the course of undertaking research, particularly in the areas of social science or medicine, volunteers are often required to participate in tests, trials, consultations or interviews. Participants may be members of the general public or specific groups, the members of which meet criteria that fall within the area of study. Where participants are also members of staff of the University then HMRC regard their participation as distinct from their normal duties of employment and, thereby, not treated as employment, as long as it occurs within their own time and they are under no obligation to take part."

In all instances, as long as any payment made to volunteers is small, to cover out of pocket expenses and reasonable compensation for time spent, then it may be made without deduction of tax or National Insurance. It is the responsibility of the recipient to declare this income to HMRC.

In practice, this means that the following procedures must be followed.

Payments to volunteers - thresholds

Subject payment value


Up to £50

Payment may be made via Petty Cash, or a specific float, or vouchers may be issued, obtaining a signed receipt from the payee in all cases.

£51 - £154.99

Make payment via the AP Payment Request Form (2,981kb) for a cheque via Oracle Financials, including name, address and National Insurance number of the payee. Where anonymity is required, the cheque may be made ‘care of’ the department but the National Insurance number of the payee must still be provided.

Over £155

Refer to the Head of Payroll in advance of any proposed payments as these may be deemed taxable by HMRC.