Does a business need to pay a Volunteer?

By | 20th March 2020


Often employers are confused when someone comes to them for work experience and wonder if they need to pay the minimum wage. Here are some guidelines and examples on an exception which is called volunteering.

Pay and expenses
You are not paid for your time as a volunteer, but you may get money to cover expenses. This is usually limited to food, drink, travel or any equipment you need to buy.

You may need to pay tax on your driving expenses if you get back more than you spent.

You might be classed as an employee or worker rather than a volunteer if you get any other payment, reward or benefit in kind. This includes any promise of a contract or paid work in the future.

You get certain employment rights if you’re classed as an employee or worker, like getting the minimum wage.

Example 1

Ellie volunteers at a company to get some work experience. She’s given travel expenses even though she walks to work. This is payment, rather than out-of-pocket expenses, so she must be paid at least the minimum wage.

Example 2

Dave volunteers for an organisation tending local parks. All volunteers get £3 a week for travel but Dave is responsible for a park close to his home, so he walks there. This means the £3 is a payment and not a reimbursement of expenses. It could count as a contract of employment meaning Dave could be eligible for the minimum wage.

Example 3

Joe is an unpaid intern at a record company, but he’s given free CDs as a perk. The CDs are ‘benefits in kind’. They mean he must be paid at least the minimum wage.

Example 4

Amanda is an unpaid intern at a design company. She’s been promised that she’ll be taken on as an employee after 3 months. This counts as a reward, so she must be paid at least the minimum wage for the whole time she spends at the company.