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Is PAYE needed?

16 August 2013

At our church, we are beginning to pay a regular cleaner for a few hours each week. Do we have to set up a PAYE system?

EVERYTHING that a church does is under the same employment law as the rest of the country and all other employers. Depending on the amount a worker earns, he or she may have to pay National Insurance and income tax. Working a few hours a week for the church may not bring the worker up to the "primary threshold", which is the minimum amount of earnings after which National Insurance must be paid, and all workers have an agreed level of income before tax, depending on their circumstances.

There is information on the HMRC website, and the site also suggests that enquirers could consult the Citizens Advice Bureau. It is important to get this right, as the employer/church will become liable for all National Insurance (employer's and employee's), and missed tax payments, if the omission is discovered later.

Some dioceses take on the administration of PAYE and NI for smaller or poorer churches, and certainly the finance department can give initial advice. Not knowing or not finding out the rules does not excuse the church from liability.

Remember, too, that other laws also apply. The church should be seen to be an equal-opportunities employer, and, under the law, your cleaner can be of any faith or none. He or she simply has to be a good cleaner; so don't think that the church is exempt from rules on advertising jobs for cleaners, administrators, and others.

Only when an employee's work involves active engagement in religious activity, such as leading a service, can the requirement that he or she be a practising Christian be upheld. A person of another faith who has enough understanding of Christian faith to do his or her work is fine for the job.

Part-time employees are entitled to a contract, agreed hours and pay, and appropriate conditions of work. They should know who their line manager is; to whom they can make a complaint when necessary; the extent of the notice that is required; and how their work will be reviewed. They should have reasonable facilities available for breaks, and a proper agreement about holidays. The Church Urban Fund produced a good booklet on employment practice, and you could always ask your local Council for the Voluntary Sector.

Clergy are not always best placed to advise on employment practice, because their own employment agreement is so unusual in contemporary culture. They are office-holders with few formal conditions of work, such as hours, holidays, facilities, and so on.

But how does the Church get away with offering only voluntary work, or non-parochial work, to one half of clergy married couples, when clearly this has a hugely negative impact on their future, from having a credible CV to eventual benefit and pension rights? We need clearer thinking in high places. I suspect that the will to change from the diocesan point of view is insufficient to overcome the Hardyesque, parish- level expectation that the clergy should be available at all hours.

So, can a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Rastafarian be employed in your church? Of course they can, and they must have appropriate and legal terms of employment.

Send comments and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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