Thoughts on Working in the Voluntary Sector

This is addressed to those contemplating taking the plunge into paid employment in the voluntary sector. Those of you already working in charities, community organisations, campaigning groups etc. need read no further. Otherwise…..

Organisations

  • Working for a Charity, NCVO, Regent’s Wharf, 8 All Saints Street, London, N1 9RL, phone 020 7520 2512 / 2493, email: workingforacharity@ncvo-vol.org.uk. A training body for people wishing to transfer their skills to the voluntary sector.

Our thoughts

The first thing to point out is the massive diversity here. Large household name charities have employees in the thousands, while a self-help group may just have a part-time admin worker, with all the possibilities in between. Terms and conditions can range from close to the average for that type of job (perhaps even above in terms of maternity leave, pensions or total leave entitlement) to the very minimum allowed (and if you are unlucky, below). Many organisations expect their staff to be committed to the cause to the extent of being self-exploiting – the sector incurs an above average number of industrial tribunal cases which may well be due to employees burning out or no longer being willing to do this. On the other hand, job satisfaction can be massive and in smaller organisations learning opportunities many and frequent.

Changing (or getting) a job normally requires careful thought if it is to be successful – changing to the voluntary sector even more so. Be clear why you want to make the move, what terms and conditions you would be happy with, how much commitment you are prepared to give. The latter is usually quite obvious at interview, but there will be friction if you accept a job which takes too much out of you. It can be tricky finding out in advance what the work ethos of an organisation is, and senior staff can live in a different world from everybody else, but be suspicious if you aren’t given an opportunity to look round at some point in the recruitment process.

Trade Unions are even less in evidence in the sector than the commercial world. There is also often not an obvious career structure – to progress you may need to move organisations fairly frequently, and for many this will mean across to the public sector (local authority, government quangos and the like) and back. In smaller organisations, moving on every 3 to 4 years is pretty normal.

Particular parts of the sector have their own characteristics. For instance, conservation organisations often expect you to have experience as a volunteer in a similar organisation before you get your first paid job, community groups are likely to mark you down for being too nicely dressed, and campaigning groups will fairly obviously prefer it if you can show an existing interest in the subject they campaign on. Some of this is common sense, but not all. Get an idea of the style of an organisation from its reports, web site, media coverage, contacts, whatever.

Don’t expect a job in the voluntary sector to be less demanding than one in the commercial world, even if it pays less. There are some jobs where this holds true, but pressures are increasing to do more for less, here as elsewhere. The better employers recognise the effort being put in, and reward it as best they can – maybe more flexibility in working hours or tolerance of odd habits and enthusiasms, chances to get involved in ‘fun’ events – but very rarely extra pay. ‘Professionalism’ is increasing, which sometimes just means appointing the person with the flashiest qualifications, but more positively is about recognising that employees are there to develop their professional skills as well as graft hard.



Other thoughts

Prospects, the graduate career advice web site, has some pages on what is involved in various fields. Look under Explore Types of Job, and then for example: Social and Pastoral Care – Community Work for advice worker, community worker, youth worker, etc.

Employing Staff

Intro

For many organisations recruiting their first paid worker after relying on volunteer effort, the positive buzz is undermined by not just having to come to terms with new management issues but also all the regulations and issues around employing staff. Some voluntary organisations think these only apply to commercial bodies and ignore, others try to apply the approach of large corporations (where trustees might work) resulting in overkill.

There are get outs on some regulations for smaller concerns, but you should always check (and also consider whether in best practice terms or because of the number of volunteers you should respect them anyway).

Workforce resources on NCVO website.

Trades Unions, Associations

Some parts of the sector are heavily unionised, while elsewhere they don’t seem to have heard of them. Employers can’t use them as information sources directly, but staff who are members can often get some useful general briefings for free. Unions with dedicated voluntary sector branches include:

  • Unison Probably the largest presence in the sector (around 50,000 members quoted early 2006). Contact National Officer for Voluntary Sector (Mike Short), 1 Mabledon Place, London, WC1H 9AJ, phone 0845 355 0845, email: cvsector@unison.co.uk. There is also a Voluntary Organisations Branch based at Suite 103/4, 134-146 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3AR, phone 020 7729 4001/5001. In Northern Ireland, try the Greater Belfast sector branch training pages.
  • Unite (formed from Amicus and TGWU in 2007) has a specialist section for community, play, youth and not-for profit workers in the UK.
  • Association of Community Workers Info about various aspects of community work. Stephenson Buildings, Elswick Rd, Newcastle, NE4 6SQ, phone 0191 272 4341 (these contact details may be out of date).
  • Community union includes branches covering specific voluntary sector areas/activities, and incorporates British Union of Social Work and National League of the Blind & Disabled (recognised in sheltered workshops). The Community Union Combined Branches in the North of England (Yorkshire & Humberside, Manchester and Lancashire) specifically organises and recruits in the Voluntary, Community Care and Housing Associations Sector.

Employment Contracts and Policies

The Policies Checklist we have compiled will flag up some issues you need to consider, such as Disciplinary and Grievance, Time Off in Lieu, Redundancy, Retirement. There are certain legal requirements to any employment contract. These include issuing a written ‘statement of employment particulars’ within 2 months of starting (sooner if working abroad), for any employee working longer than a month, with no minimum working hours. It must include names, start date, salary, hours and place of work, holidays. This or other documents must cover sick pay, pensions, length of contract if not permanent, any collective agreements.

Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. Advisory handbook from ACAS online (or order in print) from their publications website.

NCVO will send you model standard and fixed term employment contracts if you send an sae to the Helpdesk, NCVO, Regent’s Wharf, 8 All Saints Street, London, N1 9RL (helpdesk phone 0800 2798 798).

Valuing the Voluntary Sector – Quality Conditions for Quality Services was a campaign from TGWU, September 2005, which included a charter of rights for people working in voluntary organisations. No longer running, but check Unite pages.

A Guide to Good Employment was produced by Northern Ireland sector support body NICVA, but disappeared from website in 2014 redesign. Try their HR or Resources sections for other employment help. While much of the human resources guidance will be common across the UK, do note that some legal requirements differ.

Please take legal advice or consult a support body for more guidance – we can’t give definitive information here due to the breadth of the subject and range of organisations who might be reading this.

Sources of Advice

  • Personnel consultants specialising in the sector will be listed on the management consultants list. This specialism may or may not be highlighted for an entry, but its worth asking.
  • ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) As well as their well-known role of mediating in disputes, they run a variety of employment related workshops at reasonable prices. They also have short advice publications, specimen forms etc. which can be downloaded from the web site or picked up for free from their offices, on such topics as contracts of employment, discipline at work, flexible employment requirements. Contact your regional office. London office: Clifton House, 83-117 Euston Road, NW1 2RB, phone 020 7396 5121.
  • HRNet, run by the Cranfield Trust, offers charities online Human Resources advice and access to information on HR developments.
  • Institute for Employment Studies A charity connected to Sussex Uni – all aspects of employment policy and practice, do research and consultancy.
  • HRZone has a variety of online resources, some free.
  • Your rights at work: A TUC guide comes as a result of the demand from the TUC’s Know Your Rights phone line. Order from Kogan Page, phone 01903 828800 (£8-99).


Work as part of life

How far work should be allowed to dominate an individual’s life is increasing in importance as an issue in the sector. Why should relationships and social life suffer because of your work being so crucial? Isn’t it better for all (including performance at work) to strike a fair balance? These are some of the questions you can investigate further via the following links:

  • Working Families believes that implementing work-life balance practices helps the voluntary sector build capacity through flexible working and improve recruitment and retention. 1-3 Berry Street, London, EC1V 0AA, phone 020 7253 7243, email: office@workingfamilies.org.uk
  • The Work Foundation did have relevant publications such as Time to go home – embracing the homeworking revolution (May 03), which includes management and legal advice, and The Work-Life Manual, ‘a practical tool … to help identify what work-life initiatives you can introduce’, but not sure that these are still available.
  • Getting It Right: Improving work-life balance in your business, jointly produced by NSPCC with Federation of Small Businesses and British Chambers of Commerce, is a free practical guide looking at how 11 different businesses (including a voluntary organisation and a housing association) have successfully introduced flexible employment patterns. However, it doesn’t appear to be available any more, Jan ’06.
  • Family and Childcare Trust Has information and advice for parents on childcare options and entitlements.

Note that certain, basic, legal requirements on flexible working were introduced from April ’03. See most of the above for details.

Homeworking

Employment Regulations

Useful websites

More indepth/for the professional

  • For loads of web links check out British Employment Law Information. This is a service from DiscLaw Publishing, who work with the Law Society. It also provides access to the professional Employment Law pages for £5 a day, which you can sign up for instantly (something like £120 for a year, which includes CD-ROM too).
  • Employment Law free email news service from Daniel Barnett (barrister). Only for those who really want to keep on top of legal developments as they happen – a professional approach.
  • Employment Appeal Tribunal for law reports.

Specifics

We don’t claim or seek to cover everything here. Just the issues most likely to impact on voluntary sector organisations. See Useful web sites (above) for more.

Employers Liability Insurance is a requirement – check out Insurers if you haven’t got this covered, and remember to check whether it covers volunteers working for you. We understand that in addition to having to display a valid certificate proving your cover, the organisation must now keep this for 40 years!

Work Permits are administered by part of Home Office’s Border Agency. Work permit arrangements allow employers based in Great Britain to employ people who are not nationals of a European Economic Area country and are not otherwise entitled to work in this country. See Gov.Uk section ‘Check if someone can work in the UK‘.

National Minimum Wage regulations are enforced by HM Revenue & Customs. Rates are revised from time to time. If you pay more than reimbursement of expenses to volunteers, watch out! There are also implications on record keeping, especially if you pay less than £12,000 per year (£1,000 per month). The NMW information line is on 0845 8450 360.

Unfair dismissal considerations apply after one year. This means that if you have had someone on temporary contracts for more than a year, you might have a problem if that employment comes to an end (for whatever reason) unless you know your employment law.

Criminal Record Checks /Barring We give the basics of this under Volunteers and the law. This mainly impacts on care and children organisations. See Disclosure and Barring Service (was Criminal Records Bureau, alternative link on Gov.uk). In Scotland, it is Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) checks – see Disclosure Scotland or Volunteer Scotland resources.

Unions, industrial action

Union recognition and ballots. Part of Employment Relations Act 1999 provisions, in force from June 2000.

BIS has published a guide for employees / trade union members who are considering taking industrial action, in pdf format ‘Industrial Action and the Law‘.

Gov.uk Trade Unions and workers rights section.

Leave, working hours, work-life balance

Parental Leave – Maternity and Paternity leave. Improvements in entitlements from April 03. There are also rights for time off for emergencies involving dependants (but no obligation for this to be paid).

Working Time Regulations came into force October 1998. 48 hours averaged over 17 weeks is the maximum unless the employee has agreed in writing, or there is a union agreement. There are various other rights and some types of workers with other get outs.

Gov.uk on leave and time off (England, Wales and NI).

Discrimination

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the official anti-discrimination body.

Disability Discrimination Act See the disability related sites on People Resources page. Employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate against current or prospective employees with disabilities. Small employer exemption ended Oct ’04.

Religious and sexual orientation discrimination regulations from December 2003. See ACAS guidance.

Race discrimination Under amendments brought in July 03, an exemption from the 1976 Race Relations Act that had allowed charities serving particular racial groups to recruit staff from a particular racial group has been partially repealed. ‘Genuine occupational requirements’ can still be used when recruiting staff, where the nature of the employment requires someone of a particular race, ethnic or national origin.

Staff Payment Practicalities

Salary Scales and Comparisons

Many voluntary organisations use scales linked to local authority, civil service or specific groups like academic or nursing grades. The main problems are equating rather different jobs to particular points or grades on the scales and getting hold of the complete pay rate information on a reliable basis. Many of the scales are published and subscription services may be available – alternatively your organisation may have to become a member of the negotiating body (rates for small organisations aren’t always prohibitive).

NJC (local authority) scales can be found at

The Local Government (NJC) Job Evaluation Scheme has been adapted for use in the voluntary sector by the resource for groups in London, Personnel Employment Advice and Conciliation Service (PEACe). This links in with NJC pay scales. Just Job Evaluation the PEACe approach comes as a CDrom at £99, and includes a training module and practice exercises

There are also some sector salary surveys:

  1. ACEVO publishes regular surveys of Chief Executive pay, which is available to members – see support bodies page.
  2. Croner Solutions does regular (annual) surveys in many sectors, including charities (in association with CF Appointments). 2003 results are based on data from 270 charities of all shapes and sizes, covering 7,800 different jobs. Reliable, but not easy to get to grips with. Charity survey costs (at 2003) £305. Phone 01785 813566, email: enquiries@croner-reward.co.uk
  3. NCVO carries out an annual sector salary survey through Xpert HR Solutions (previously Remuneration Economics). Results published in September, and participating organisations get a discount (e.g. small organisations got the 2002 version for £65 as opposed to £290). Some professional consultants have been puzzled by past findings which are roughly 40% lower than their experience and other surveys say.

Other sources of salary comparators are organisations similar to yourselves (although they could be cagey if there is competition for staff!) or for admin work try temp agencies and other commercial firms who have similar jobs to yours.

Pension Issues

Update March 2012: Stakeholder pensions are now old hat, and new requirements for occupational pensions have a staged introduction (based on number of employees) from October 2012. The following needs amendment.

Employers should check the government’s pensions info page for more – also see Gov.uk employee pension page.

Both the HM Revenue and Customs site and that from The Pensions Regulator (was Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority) are generally clear and helpful.

See Pension Provider page for pension schemes of particular interest to the voluntary sector.

For employees, PensionSorter is worth checking. Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) is a grant aided voluntary organisation giving free help and advice to members of the public who have a problem concerning either a company or personal pension scheme. TPAS will also assist with general enquiries on State Pension Schemes; helpline for employees on 0845 601 2923.

Also check ethical investment issues at UKSIF (or see the VolResource Ethical Investment page).

Sector Trends

Levels of staff turnover are something managers and management committees worry about. In some areas, high turnover can be a good thing, as moving between organisations is the only way to gain breadth and depth of experience, with long service being an indication of low self-esteem or drive. (We have come across this in many small community-based groups.)

Surveys etc

(Material to be updated.)

Expenses

Payment of expenses can be more of an issue than salaries. The tax implications are often not understood, by employee or employer. See PAYE section below.

Car Mileage rates: HM Revenue and Customs sets out rates which they regard as not being taxable. Compare these with the NJC scale rates (see Payscales above. And don’t forget that there is a bicycle tax free mileage rate (of 20p in 2002), and cycles and cycle safety equipment made available to employees for commuting don’t attract tax charges.

Subsistence allowances. Again NJC publishes some rates (we haven’t checked if they are on the usual websites). Voluntary organisations may prefer to reimburse actual costs, within limits.

Other issues. There are many oddities, but some we have come across include:
– phone calls from home/own mobile. Do you recognise a rental element? If so, you will probably have to declare this with the year-end tax return.
– do staff incurring regular expenses (site visits?) need a float? Make sure record keeping is adequate on both sides. If you are going to pay expenses out of petty cash, can you ‘trap’ any problematic ones or compile adequate info. for Inland Revenue purposes? If you are going to pay by cheque, can you turn these around quickly enough so that staff don’t suffer and/or complain?



Income Tax, Payroll issues (PAYE/NIC etc.)

Once you know what you are looking for, get more details from the HM Revenue and Customs web site.

Voluntary groups are viewed in exactly the same way as any other employer. The only thing you need to make sure any adviser checks is the Small Employer criteria for Statutory Maternity Pay and Statutory Sick Pay, which means you can reduce NI contributions if you qualify. The Contributions Agency, which deals with National Insurance, became part of the Inland Revenue in 1999 (and is now called the National Insurance Contributions Office), so start at the web site given above.

The Employers Helpline is on 0345 143 143 for general tax and NIC enquiries. The Inland Revenue are now publishing their main guides and forms on CD-ROM annually, but seemingly only available at the start of the tax year. Get this through the Employers Orderline on 0845 7646 646 (you need your employers reference for this).

Specific Issues

It is worth trying to be extra rigorous in recording employee expenses – it is rare that voluntary orgs pay more than actual costs, but inspectors often want proof. Check out if you need a ‘dispensation’ so you don’t have to report all these details on the annual return, and also check that car mileage rates are within their scales. Download the current version of the HMRC booklet on Expenses and Benefits (480) but expect it to be around 100 pages.

Calling senior staff or your management committee/trustees ‘Directors’ can also lead to confusion, as there are special rules about people who are actually company directors.

Payroll Resources

Many local sector support organisations (CVS), community accountancy projects, DSC and some other sector trainers provide basic training on operating the payroll – check training provider page for contacts.

There are a number of commercial training courses, which can be more in depth:

  • Croner CCH – may have changed.
  • Payroll Alliance Originally set up as an independent employers’ payroll association, now part of LexisNexis, providing a helpline, training, manuals etc. Can be good value for those with larger or more complex payrolls.