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Ministry experience volunteers

Background

There are a number of people working across the diocese who are sometimes referred to in terms such as ‘interns’, ‘pastoral assistants’, ‘ministry experience volunteers’, or ‘volunteer leaders’. They are frequently working in order to gain ministry experience, with a view to discerning possible future ministry in the church. The status of ‘intern’ has no basis in employment legislation and the use of the term is discouraged by the Diocese of London as it can be misleading.

The vision for any ministry experience is for the individual to explore ministry. It should not be considered a stepping stone to apprenticeship or a ‘job on the cheap’ but rather an opportunity to explore vocation, a sense of calling, purpose and / or direction. It is primarily a learning opportunity and experience, allowing individuals to think about faith and ministry at a deeper level, and to develop new skills. It provides the opportunity to engage in an experience outside their comfort zone, work shadow those already in ministry and to ‘dip a toe in the water’.

Employment Status

The initial decision that a PCC or ministry experience scheme provider should consider is whether the role should be as paid employee or volunteer.

If the intention is for the individual to undertake a role as part of their ministry experience that somebody would ordinarily be paid to do, e.g. Youth Worker, then the parish should employ the individual (on a part-time or full-time basis) on the National Minimum Wage for those under the age of 25 or on the National Living Wage as appropriate. The Government’s National Living Wage was introduced on 1 April 2016 for all working people aged 25 and over. These rates change every April, so please see https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates for the current rates of the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage. Where it is affordable, the London Diocese, would also recommend consideration of paying the London Living Wage. This is reviewed annually in November and current rates should be checked at https://www.livingwage.org.uk/.

The employer should also be mindful that employment brings with it various employer obligations (e.g. National Insurance payments, Income Tax, employer liability insurance, pension contributions etc.) Further advice can be obtained from the Diocesan website, https://www.london.anglican.org/kb/getting-started-becoming-an-employer/.

If, having considered the nature of the role, this is not deemed to be an established role, or paid position, and is purely a voluntary ministry experience, intended to provide the person with a learning opportunity to explore vocation (possibly as part of the discernment process for potential future ministry) then a voluntary worker status may be appropriate.

The status of voluntary worker is recognised in section 44 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. It specifically relates to an individual who is working for a charity or a voluntary organisation, but who is not an employee. The special status of voluntary workers means they are not required to be paid the National Minimum Wage. However parishes must be careful to comply with the requirements of section 44, otherwise the individual may be deemed to be a regular worker, or even an employee and therefore entitled to the National Minimum Wage (and possibly other employment benefits e.g. annual leave, statutory sick pay etc.) in respect of the whole of their ministry experience.

Voluntary worker status can apply to an individual working for a charity, providing that:
• They receive no monetary payments of any description, or benefits in kind, except in respect of expenses actually incurred in the performance of their role (or reasonably estimated as likely to be or to have been incurred.
• The voluntary worker is not being treated as an employee (e.g. there is no mutuality of obligation).

Expenses

Using this status, a parish will often offer reimbursement of expenses actually incurred in the course of the ministry experience, for example travel costs, or may make a payment in respect of expenses reasonably estimated as likely to be incurred. An estimate may be arrived at by reviewing actual expenses incurred over a number of weeks or months and arriving at an average.

Accommodation (where owned and/or provided by the parish)

Typically a parish may also offer parish accommodation as a benefit in kind e.g. a benefit that may need to be taxed.
In some circumstances, if accommodation is necessary to fulfil the role, then it may not be deemed to be a taxable benefit. Typically, a parish or scheme may offer a room in shared accommodation.

Accommodation allowances (i.e. payments to meet the cost of accommodation) can only be paid in extremely limited circumstances, which will not normally apply to ministry experience schemes. You should seek specific tax and legal guidance if you wish to explore this further.

If the volunteer worker is offered accommodation with a friend, family member, or similar, that is not specifically connected to their ministry experience, this would be deemed to be a private arrangement.

Accommodation providers may wish to take in to consideration the government ‘Rent a Room Scheme’, which from 6 April 2016 allows an individual to earn up to a threshold of £7,500 per year as of tax free from letting out furnished accommodation in his/her home. Please read current guidance. (https://www.gov.uk/rent-room-in-your-home/the-rent-a-room-scheme).

Subsistence

In the event of making a subsistence payment of any type, then consideration should be given to the taxable status of any such payments. In particular, where these might be considered ‘payment’ in return for work and therefore indicative of an employment relationship, and thus taxable.

Furthermore, any such payment of subsistence could be deemed to be an avoidance of employer obligations (e.g. Employer NI, income tax). It is therefore recommended that where an employer wishes to make any sort of additional payment to avoid the volunteer worker being ‘out of pocket’, that these should be treated as receipted expenses (or a payment in respect of expenses reasonably estimated as likely to be incurred).

Training

A volunteer worker may require some training during the course of their ministry experience (e.g. safeguarding training). However any training which goes beyond supporting their ministry experience, will amount to a benefit in kind falling outside the scope of section 44 and so could render the ministry experience volunteer a normal worker or employee.

Ministry Experience Volunteer agreements

Arrangements will need to be considered on an individual case by case basis. However, parishes are encouraged to use a Ministry Experience Volunteer agreement (template attached).

Resources

FileAction
Example Ministry Experience Volunteer Agreement (revised March 2018)  Download  

Alternatives

If the options above do not cover the volunteering or working arrangement that you are seeking to achieve, then parishes or scheme providers wishing to explore alternative volunteering or employment arrangements should seek independent legal or tax advice.

Advice

This guidance note covers generic advice in regard to this topic and should not be considered legal advice. You are encouraged to seek specific HR advice from our HR helpline on 020 7932 1200 and also specialist independent tax advice.


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