Accessibility statement

Policy on the Payment of Individuals for Involvement with and Contribution to Research

1. Scope and definitions

1.1. The purpose of this policy is to set out procedures for the payment of lay persons for their involvement with or participation in research at the University of York, recognising the importance of such involvement in producing high-quality, world-renowned research. In line with the University's strategic aim to be a University for public good, this policy sets out reasonable levels of payment for involvement and/or participation in a range of research activities. It should be considered in line with HMRC requirements and guidance from relevant organisations, for example the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) guidance for researchers and professionals and for members of the public on payments for public contributors. 

1.2. This policy applies to all those undertaking research under the University’s auspices. This includes all research undertaken on the University’s behalf, by staff, students, visiting or emeritus staff, associates, honorary or clinical contract holders, contractors and consultants. It applies across all subject disciplines and fields of study. Those undertaking research on University premises but not in the University’s name are expected to adhere to University of York research policies.

1.3. Involvement in research comprises either research participation (being subjects of research) or research contribution (assisting in the development and co-production of research projects). Research participation may include activities such as, but not limited to, involvement in clinical trials, the completion of surveys, interviews and physical tasks. Research contribution may include activities such as, but not limited to, providing feedback on research methods, helping develop a research question and reviewing relevant material. Participation and contribution in research may be one-off occasions, short- or longer-term.

1.5. Patients and members of the public typically take part in research on a voluntary basis, however the point at which the value of payment and the nature of the engagement changes the status of the individual from volunteer to worker is not defined by HMRC. This policy therefore takes into account various disciplinary norms, examples of best practice, external expert advice and legal requirements to identify reasonable thresholds for the payment of members of the public who take part in or contribute to our research.

1.6. Definitions of key terms are included in Appendix A (Decision Matrix and Payment Guide).

2. Guiding Principles

2.1. The following principles should be followed when paying research participants or public contributors to research:

  • That lay participants and contributors to research are a valuable part of the research process whose time, effort and experience should be fairly compensated or rewarded, and that doing so is an integral part of conducting research. That public participants and contributors have a right to feel respected and appreciated in the research environment, and the fair compensation of such individuals is a step towards doing so.
  • That lay participants and contributors to research retain the right to withdraw from the research process at any time, and that this is not undermined by the payment of such individuals. Research participants and contributors have the right to decline payment if they wish. The risk of coercion or undue influence should also be noted when seeking the informed consent of participants.
  • That researchers recognise the potential for perverse incentives to arise as a result of paying lay participants and contributors to research. For example, the belief that input should match the (perceived) expectations of the researcher(s), or an assumption that payment invalidates the voluntary nature of involvement (and that individuals involved in research cannot leave the project) might affect the behaviour of the participant/contributor. It is important that this is addressed as part of the ethical approval process, and the expectations on individuals should be communicated clearly. This includes the right to terminate involvement at any stage should they so wish.
  • That risks arising from the payment of lay individuals are the responsibility of the researcher or research team to identify and mitigate as far as possible. Paying due respect to lay participants and contributors to research is not a ‘tick box’ exercise, and the wellbeing and personal circumstances (where known) of such individuals should be appropriately considered throughout the research process.
  • That approaches to the payment of lay individuals should be proportionate, giving consideration to levels of risk and the time investment required for delivery.

2.2. In line with GDPR and Data Protection requirements, participants and contributors should receive an information sheet and a privacy notice outlining the use of their personal data during the research. The information sheet should include details of payments to or compensation for individuals involved in research.

2.3. It is good practice to involve at least three public contributors for lay contribution to research, in order to ensure peer support and good cover in the event of ill health or unforeseen circumstances. Researchers should note that this is less likely to be possible in the case of research participation, but that this should not be prohibitive for the advancement of a project.

3. Thresholds for Payment

3.1. The following thresholds are deemed to be reasonable when paying individuals taking part in research:

  • Up to £75 for up to half a day;
  • Up to £150 for a full day; and
  • Up to £184 total in any given week.

The University will keep these figures under review.

3.2. The University assessment of reasonable payment rates is aligned with existing funder payment rates, such as those developed by the NIHR for public contributors involved in research (and as such are subject to change if funder guidance varies). “Reasonable” in this context refers to an amount of payment which does not risk a volunteer entering into a worker arrangement (as defined by the HMRC).

3.3. The amounts listed above are upper thresholds and the actual payment made will depend on the nature of the research and the individual input. These amounts do not include expenses. With regards to involvement, the University recognises the suggested rates noted by the NIHR. These rates are provided as examples, and researchers are able to use different rates where they wish. 

3.4. Further guidance on payment amounts is available to researchers through the Decision Matrix and Payment Guide.

3.5. The University recognises the value of flexibility, and in developing this policy has taken steps to avoid an overly prescriptive payment rate. Individuals may be paid more than the above amounts, however to do so may change the nature of the relationship and may result in the status of worker being inferred for tax purposes.

3.6. Individuals paid more than £1000 per financial year must be declared to the University Tax Accountant in order to meet HMRC requirements. It is the responsibility of Principal Investigators (PIs) to keep a record of such individuals and to inform the University Tax Manager as relevant, to enable the submission of a S16 return. Departments should ensure they have an appropriate framework and supporting system in place to facilitate organisation of and access to records. The individual(s) concerned are required to self-declare their income to HMRC in addition to the University fulfilling these reporting requirements. See section 4.2 for further guidance as to what information should be collected.

3.7. Responsibility for the management of tax implications arising from such payments lies with the lay participants and contributors to research, except where such individuals are included on the University payroll. Information on payment for those taking part in research, including how individuals can expect to be paid, should be included on the information sheet given to participants.

3.8. Payment might have implications for individuals on benefits. The University is not able to provide financial advice on this due to the variations in personal circumstance; members of the public can refer to the NIHR guidance for further information.

3.9. PIs should provide lay participants and contributors with a draft letter to present to the Job Centre where necessary. This letter should outline the nature of the individual’s involvement and the payment received for their time. In the case of PPI work, assistance with developing this letter can be sought from the Involvement@York Network Manager.

3.10. A report on payments distributed during each financial year will be coordinated by the Policy, Integrity and Performance Office (PIP) and presented to the University Research Committee on an annual basis. This policy shall also be subject to regular review to ensure that the specified amounts and processes remain accurate.

4. Appropriate Methods of Payment

4.1. Researchers should consult the Guidance on Research Participant/Contributor Payment Methods for further information. For further information as to how long such data should be stored, consult the University Records Retention Schedule and the Financial Regulations.

4.2. The decision as to which method of payment to use should be made with consideration of the appropriateness for the task and for the individual’s circumstances. The responsibility of the University to pay individuals in a timely and efficient manner, minimising the burden for participants and contributors however possible, should be recognised throughout.

4.3. The information sheet provided to lay participants and contributors should include detail on how payment will be made. Information sheets should be developed in line with guidance from departments and ethics committees as relevant.

4.4. A record must be kept of any amount paid to an individual and when this payment was made. This record must meet data protection requirements and be shared upon request in the event of an audit.

5. Breaches of Policy

5.1. Breaches of this policy may be considered a breach of duty of care to participants and contributors, and as such would constitute research misconduct. Such incidences would be taken forward under the Research Misconduct Policy and Procedure if applicable.

5.2. Where the breach is not understood to be research misconduct, it will be taken forward via the Disciplinary Procedure as necessary. Legal involvement may be sought in certain cases, for example where payments are criminally mismanaged.

5.3. In certain circumstances, a breach of policy may be judged to be a capability issue, and in these instances will be addressed through a range of more appropriate measures, for example further training. Researchers who are concerned that their actions might breach policy can seek advice from the Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) and Stakeholder Engagement Manager for the York Trials Unit, the Involvement@York Manager, and PPI advisers in the NIHR Research Design Service (RDS).

Added 17 January 2022

Key contact

Zoe Clarke 
Policy, Integrity and Performance Officer (Integrity)

Further information