Incentives for trainees to spread energy advice around disadvantaged communities

Muswell Hill Sustainability Group has received a grant to work with Living Under One Sun in Tottenham to train up ‘energy champions’ to cascade information and advice around the area - particularly targetting households where English is not the first language.

We have been advised that we can’t pay them as they’d need complicated contracts and it would affect tax and benefits and we can’t reward them with shopping vouchers as that is considered payment in kind for volunteers. Has anyone tackled this knotty problem and could advice on how not to fall foul of the law?

We’d be very grateful.


Thanks for sharing your problem, I moved this over to the Low Carbon Communities forum section with the hope that it gets more general interest rather than one solely retrofit focussed attention.

That sounds like a challenge, personally as I see it the ideal situation would be to pay people for any work which is being carried out especially if their work is being relied upon and they are under obligation. I understand in certain projects this might not be possible or appropriate. In these situations I think it is really important that anyone carrying our these roles feels properly involved in the planning the work and is able to decide their own schedule and structure where possible. This helps to create a sense of ownership over the project and not just a feeling of being an unpaid worker!

You might also want to consider holding some kind of champion celebration event (in-person events should be possible again soon!). This could be a kind of party or reward for the hard work they are doing, maybe with food an entertainment, something again to make it feel like the champions are not taken for granted.

I am don’t have any specific advice when it comes to getting around the law on these issues, and a lot of it will depend on your specific circumstances!

Yeah, just to echo and build on some of Matt’s comments. In the early days of Carbon Co-op we ran several Community Chanpions programme’s with local authorities in Greater Manchester, these were a really great way to get the co-op started.

As well as broad based community engagement events we also had a Community Champion stream in which a Community Champion would get have a full, whole house assessment report carried out on their home and in return would share the findings of that report via a workshop hosted in their home or at a nearby community venue.

We are very alive to the ‘paying volunteers’ HMRC issue but we don’t think this kind of relationship constituted an in kind benefit due to the collective benefit enjoyed by friends and neighbours - it did however encourage engagement from Champions and support them in their carbon saving activities.

Here’s an example of a post from the Stockport Community Champions project: Carbon Co-op in Stockport - Community Champions project launch | Carbon Co-op

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Thank you so much. It is good to hear that other groups are on the same page!

We are positioning this as candidates applying for training, so I am thinking we are not ‘relying’ on them. We definitely want some kind of ‘prize giving’ we just want to sure what they get is something they value (eg shopping vouchers or a tablet). I’ll report back if I get any legal/tax advice,

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Yes, do. We were really helped out by our HR advisor as there’s an implicit HR element here.