Fare Exchange

The UK Community Partner Network (UKCPN) is interested in exploring the different ways universities can pay and support people to get involved in working in partnership on projects and research. 

Paying members of the public or organisations is not straightforward and many universities work hard to simplify things and help people navigate procedures. It’s apparent from conversations with both academics and community partners that there is little consistency within individual universities and virtually no national approach or guidelines.   

Universities are large organisations and finance teams are often not located in the departments delivering projects. Research council rules, employment law, the tax and National Insurance rules and very complicated claims systems conspire to make paying people difficult. From getting expenses for bus tickets for volunteers to invoicing for services, processes can seem daunting and disempowering. Steve Pool, artist and UKCPN member, asked people from the UKCPN to outline the different approaches they have encountered, share the pros and cons of each method. Please contribute your own experiences and leave your comments below. 

1. University payroll

This happens if your involvement with the university is classed as teaching.

People will have to register on a complex system through a series of forms. The first time you are paid in this way you will be asked to clarify your employment status. If you are recognised as self-employed you should not get taxed or have to pay national insurance at source. Payment comes in the month that the forms go in but this is often delayed. Once you are on this system and have relevant codes and numbers payment becomes more straightforward. 

2. As a Named Supplier

Individuals or organisations become registered suppliers for a university - often the finance team will have to “raise an order” through the main university finance office – you can then invoice against this order number. Getting on the system can take a while but once you are registered things are easier to navigate. It is important to consider VAT when quoting for services, this is often not accounted for within project proposals. Most universities will only allow invoicing after the work or a stage of the work is complete, advance payments can be a problem. In some cases community partners are paid as consultants and contracted as such.   

3. Expenses form 

Claiming back expenses via a non-staff claims form is often the preferred approach to small amounts of money. The fund is often held within the department or faculty you are working with and it’s easier to chase things up with people you know. Often the forms don’t seem to cover what you actually have to claim for but the system works well for small amounts of money (each university has a different allowable amount on this system). If you have cash flow problems it’s worth asking if the university can purchase things like train tickets for you in advance as it can take as long as 7 weeks to process these claims. If the claim is for time or services recent legislation means you will probably have to show your passport or permission to work to someone within the department. 

4. An Honorarium

 A payment made without the giver recognising themselves as having any liability or legal obligation made to a person for their services in a volunteer capacity or for services for which fees are not traditionally required. A single payment not directly linked to services is given to an individual or an organisation in recognition of the work they will do on a project or consultation.    

5. Third party organisation

A third party organisation often with a good track record of working with the university manages funds. In this instance an amount is given to the company either through a grant (Brunswick agreement) or an invoice for services. This organisation can then pay expenses or fees according to its own guidelines and procedures. In these agreements it is important to consider any conflicts of interests and tax implications that may arise from third party agreements from the outset of a project.

This research has raised some interesting ideas around value. Many projects have worked successfully through a system of exchange of ideas, services and knowledge without the use of money. In many cases however community groups need to access funding if they are to engage with the research community as there resources are already stretched. We are interested to hear from people involved in community-university partnership work with ideas, suggestions and information - please leave a comment below.


Some great advice here Steve. Think I would add that processes are often wildly different between different faculties in the same university: if you've had a good payment process set up with a previous academic partner and are now working with someone new to making payments to CPs, it can be useful to ask that first academic partner for tips in dealing with the internal financial workings. Could save your new partner a lot of time and headaches and get your working relationship off to a good start!

Thanks for pulling this together Steve. It usefully gives a general picture of the main options. As Mandy indicates there will be a lot of variation and in each case the best option may well take a bit of detailed investigation. Nonetheless, this is a helpful place to start in trying to overcome one of the main barriers to community partnerships with universities.

Thanks for advice on such an important issue. I think the ability and willingness to pay community partners for their contribution is the lithmus test for academics' attitude towards community partners. I think way too often there is an assumption by universities that in-kind benefits are payment enough. There are also often excuses about the difficulty of paying non-university employees. But from a study that I conducted in collaboration with Andrew Church and Angie Hart from University of Brighton, I concluded that where there is a will there is a way: so, where academics are determined to pay CPs they will find a way of doing it. I would also like to point out that the question whether community partners are paid or not is not the only aspect that's important, but rather it's also about WHEN are they paid. I work for an organisation that can deal with being paid in arrears to some extent, but I'm sure that's not feasible for other community-based organisations. Especially in this era of austerity, where voluntary and community organisations are struggling to meet ever-increasing demand with ever-decreasing funding, the payment of community partners will continue to become a more important concern. So, I think the more we can illuminate the issues around payment, the better!

Thanks Steve – the sooner we have some thought out guidance the better and your detail about how partners might be reimbursed and paid is really helpful – it’s prompted me to think about the broader context. In my experience the whole complexity around payment for community partners gets in the way of good partnership working. From where I sit, the research councils don’t seem to know what to recommend, the universities can be wary to share grants and their procedures definitely put academics off from trying to distribute the funds fairly. As for community partners, I’ve had conversations with people who have underestimated the costs involved, don’t get to see how the cake is cut (or drop out once they do), don’t realise it’s reasonable to expect payment or ask about it awkwardly after the work has started, while others have entered into agreements that spell it out from the start.
My own sense is that genuinely collaborative partnerships probably require academics and universities to give up some of their power (in this case I mean money but there are other things too) and that can’t be easy. If I was going to share my dosh for example, I'd want to know that working in partnership with the ‘community’ would offer me more than if I was to go it alone – so the payment issue links to impact pretty clearly to me.
Like many other community partners, I get involved in this work because I want research and the resources that come with the process of research, to benefit the community – I want it to build the capacity of those involved in the partnership to take action and bring about change. So for me, that means the way we conduct those partnerships ought to model a commitment to equity, the sharing of resources and acknowledgment of input.
I think if we want communities to participate as partners (and not just research subjects) then we have to sort how to reimburse expenses better and we have to pay people for their time (even if they then opt not to accept it). And we need to make that process as straightforward and transparent as possible, which might be a contradiction in terms given it is public spending we’re talking about here (but some manage it). Money is a key way in which this business acknowledges and values expertise and effort, so why wouldn’t that extend to all the partners? I don’t think community partners want to be at a table where they are the only ones not being paid – it just feels terribly unequal and disrespectful and even dismissive of the expertise they have to offer. It would be great to stop relegating this payment issue to the ‘too hard basket’ and sort some guidance instead. I know plenty of academics who want to share funding and would welcome advice and help with it. Others, like Involve for example, have taken the payment issue on - so do I see a research proposal on the horizon – it would help to gather some evidence and offer some sound recommendations about the way forward don’t you think?

This information on how universities can pay community groups is useful. But, like Kim notes, it sidesteps the question of why we need to address this question to begin with. There are two underlying issues.

The first issue is that, too often, us academics really aren't offering community groups anything of value, and often even asking them to make time and energy sacrifices to train and supervise our students. Under such circumstances we should of course pay them. But too often the payments are token. It would get really expensive really fast if we paid "community partners" at the same rate we pay ourselves when they are educating our students. So the real question is not about the bureaucracy but the equity of a relationship where higher education institutions that may have 100 times the budget of their "community partner."

The second issue is that, in those cases where us academics may actually be offering something of value, our "community partner" still has to sacrifice time and energy to participate with us. Thus, the surface analysis is that if we have our time bought out, they should have their time bought out. But, for some reason, the grant goes to the university rather than to the community group. So the problem of how to "pay" "community partners" is actually a problem of power. Maybe we should be working to support community groups to get the grants and then hire us.

All this leads us to the importance of critically evaluating what we actually mean by "community partner" and the extent to which our intended meaning is matched by our actions.

Randy -Good strong political points that I fully support and agree with but the practical question of how to pay people and how to navigate the complex systems so that even on a small scale individuals and groups can participate is an important and immediate issue to address. The larger debates about equality and power are enacted by the Kafkaesque bureaucracies process in claiming back expenses for a bus ticket yet we still can make a small change do some proper work on trying to make this process more straightforward and fare.

This is a great introduction to some of the payment processes Steve and it has raised some interesting discussion points. I agree that there are some problems with the way universities view relationships with external partners but there is also a lot that can be done on a small scale to improve working relationships immediately. I've been looking into payment processes for a while and I think the best bit of advice is for academics, administrators and community partners to sit down together at the start of a collaboration and work out what legislation and procedures will apply to their work. Universities can have complex systems for payments and they are also subject to government rules, for example Home Office mandated passport checks, so it is best to investigate and ensure everyone is aware of the requirements and time frames involved from the outset. The key thing is not to ignore it if you don't know or it's difficult - someone in the university knows so get some advice.

I totally agree with Randy's point: payments are often tokenistic, as in, of course we'll reimburse you for travelling to this meeting....In the end it depends on the type of community-based group we're talking about. Is it one that is mainly run by volunteers or is it an organisation that has paid staff -- who have to account for their time very carefully and therefore need to be paid for the work they do. I'm not arguing that volunteer-run organisations do not have to be paid, but they may have different expectations than voluntary organisations that employ paid staff.
I totally agree with the point that community groups that host student placements become part of the educational experience and journey of students and should therefore be paid for hosting them. Of course, this already happens in professional placement situations, where placements are mandatory and placement organisations ARE paid. But there are also placements where this does not happen, because the placement is not a professionally-necessary one.

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