University-initiated payments

On occasion, the University will wish to transfer funds to an individual with no deliverable specified in return (there is a process in place to pay for services). We describe these as University-initiated payments.

Examples include payments to students of scholarships (which may also be known as bursaries, grants etc.); payment of allowed subsistence for visiting Academics; and payments to participants or volunteers.

In all situations the underlying nature of the payment should be considered irrespective of how it has been described. For example, a department may describe a payment as a bursary, but if the substance of the payment is payment for services, it should be taxed appropriately.

University-initiated payments are made using payment request forms (PRFs) (xlsx). A PRF can also be used for payments to organisations where an invoice would not normally be expected, e.g. repayment or distribution of grant funding, etc.

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Scholarships may be referred to in a number of different ways, including 'bursaries, grants, exhibitions’ or similar. This guidance covers all relevant payments irrespective of their name.

Scholarships are exempt from income tax if the individual is in full-time education at a university, college, school or other educational establishment. In practice, this means that the following conditions must be met:

  1. The award is provided to support a student during a period of study – an award made after the course is complete is not a valid scholarship.
  2. The holder does not receive the payment as a result of being related to a member of staff within the institution concerned.
  3. The holder is a full-time student on an undergraduate course, or a registered full-time student on any postgraduate course up to the level of DPhil or equivalent. Postgraduate students are generally considered to be receiving full-time instruction on the grounds that their research work is subordinate to the main object of acquiring training in research methods. This still applies if they undertake small amounts of paid work (no more than a few hours a week) e.g. teaching or demonstrating. 

Where recipients of scholarships work, even in a limited fashion for the University, condition 5 below must also be considered.

  1. The holder is receiving their education at a university, college, school, or other educational establishment.
  • Students undertaking ‘sandwich courses’, where they are placed within an organisation as part of the course, are not covered by the exemption during their time at that organisation. Usually during this period any scholarship will be suspended and the student will receive employment earnings from the organisation in which they are placed.
  • Research students undertaking a period of research in the laboratories or facilities of a non-educational organisation, are not considered to be in full-time education for the duration of this research. 
  • An educational establishment will include those facilities where a university may have shared occupation of a site with a third party, but teaching is not limited to solely those areas occupied by the university e.g. teaching hospitals. 
  • Fieldwork does not invalidate this condition as long as it is provided as part of a course that otherwise takes place within an educational establishment.
  1. If the holder of the scholarship is also an employee of the University the annual value (excluding any University fee elements) does not exceed £15,480. 
  • The annual limit only applies where a scholarship is provided to an employee. No limit exists where there is no actual or implied employment relationship between the University and student. Where a student also undertakes work for the University, however, there is a risk that this may be construed by HMRC as requiring the student to satisfy this additional condition. It is important, therefore, that the terms of any scholarship award are distinct from the terms of any employment that the student may undertake for the University – i.e. there must be no requirement or obligation as a condition of the award for any element of paid teaching or other work to be undertaken, although it is allowable for applicants to be invited (voluntarily) to undertake such activities separately.

Payments for fees may be made directly to colleges on receipt of an invoice. The maintenance element of the scholarship is likely to paid directly to the student via a Payment Request Form (xlsx) can be used.

An academic visitor for tax and payment purposes:

  • does not have a contract of employment with the University; and
  • will be at Oxford for a limited (and defined) period of time; and
  • is associated with another institution (usually this means as an employee); and
  • will be returning to their own institution upon completion of their visit to Oxford.

Paying fees, honoraria, stipends etc, will usually be taxable and will require you to determine employment status of the payee (reimbursement of expenses is generally not taxable and is covered under the Expenses process).


If there is a contract of employment or a contract in place, then the visitor must be paid via payroll and treated in the same way for tax and National Insurance purposes as any other employee.

Subsistence allowances for visitors from overseas 

Visitors from overseas (not the UK) can be paid a daily subsistence allowance (i.e. a round-sum payment without the need to produce receipts). This will be treated as taxable unless clearance is obtained from HMRC in advance. 

To obtain clearance, departments should complete the Tax clearance – short term academic visitor form and return it to the Payroll Team at least one month in advance of the expected arrival of the visitor. A ruling will be sought from HMRC on whether a daily allowance may be paid without deduction of tax or National Insurance. Once this is received a copy will be sent to the department. 

Payment should be arranged using a Payment Request Form (xlsx). When requesting payment, a copy of the HMRC clearance must be attached to each payment request form. 

HMRC clearance is given only for the specific circumstances and time period provided on the form – if circumstances change or the period of stay is extended then further approval must be sought by completing an additional form.

Tax-free payments to visitors from overseas

Non-UK nationals visiting Oxford for less than six months may be able to obtain tax-free status for income received in the UK or a refund of any tax paid.

If clearance is provided for the payment of round-sum subsistence allowances, as outlined above, then these are paid without deduction of tax or National Insurance.

If clearance is not provided, or payments are to be made in return for work or service, then it may still be possible to pay an individual without having to deduct tax or National Insurance. Alternatively, if tax is deducted, individuals may be able to obtain a refund when they leave the UK. The following HMRC forms are used in both instances:

  1. Form P85 – completed when an individual who is not a UK national leaves the UK after the end of an assignment.

HMRC no longer provide a standard form for overseas visitors to complete and obtain tax exemption on arrival in the UK. In cases where it is believed that tax should not be paid, therefore, (e.g. exemption is claimed under a double taxation agreement) then the individual concerned should advise their head of administration at the earliest opportunity.

  1. Heads of Administration should complete form DTA Visiting Academic and forward it to the Head of Payroll. Clearance to pay salary without deduction of tax will be sought from HMRC, but may take up to a month to obtain. Payment of salary without deduction of National Insurance will depend upon which country the individual is arriving from.

An external examiner does not hold a teaching or research post at the University.

Payment for examining

  • First degree - if the degree being examined is a first degree, then payment must be paid via Casual Payroll
  • Research or higher degree - if the degree being examined is a second degree, then payment should be made using the Payment Request Form (xlsx) and made via the Payments Team. 

Volunteers are those who carry out unpaid work for a charity, voluntary organisation, or a fundraising body. The University uses volunteers to add value to its core activities and promote public engagement and not as a replacement for paid staff. Volunteers are not employees of the University and should be treated in accordance with the terms of the University’s volunteer policy and the volunteer guidance issued by the departments in which they perform their voluntary activities.

Reimbursement of expenses

Volunteers may be reimbursed the actual costs of expenses incurred, including travel. For volunteers that do not hold any post, office or employment, the cost of travel can include travel between home and the place where the activities take place without incurring tax.

Claims should be made via the Expenses process, subject to the requirements of the policy.

Payment in return for services

Income tax is only chargeable on an individual providing services where that individual:

  • holds an office or an employment. In this context, an office holder includes any individual elected or appointed under the constitution of any body (including sports and social clubs, honorary positions, etc.
  • receives earnings from that office or employment. This includes including round-sum payments to cover time spent and payment in kind as well as cash.

Generally if an office holder receives payment in return for holding that office – then this is usually a taxable arrangement and should be paid via Payroll

Payments to Volunteers in Clinical Trials and Research Studies including PPI

Special considerations exist for payments to volunteers, lay participants and participants in clinical trials or research studies e.g. volunteers participating in tests, trials, consultations or interviews.

Participants may be members of the general public or specific groups, the members of which meet criteria that fall within the area of study. Where participants are also members of staff of the University then HMRC regard their participation as distinct from their normal duties of employment – and, thereby, not treated as employment - as long as it occurs within their own time and they are under no obligation to take part. 

Additionally, “lay” people or “users” in research may be invited to attend meetings to give their views to inform the research process and direction - patient and public involvement (PPI). They will often be former or current patients, representatives of particular groups (e.g. retired people), or representatives from charities. 

Small payments, to cover out of pocket expenses and reasonable compensation for time spent, may be made to volunteers, lay participants and participants without deduction of tax or National Insurance. It is the responsibility of the recipient to declare this income to HMRC where required.

In practice, this means that the following procedures must be followed:

Subject Payment Value Treatment
Up to £50 Payment may be made via Petty Cash, or a specific float, or vouchers may be issued, obtaining a signed receipt from the payee in all cases.
Over £50 Make payment via the Payment Request Form (xlsx) for a payment via Oracle Financials, including name, address and National Insurance number (optional) of the payee.


Where participants are involved in multiple studies, consideration should then be made whether this constitutes the provision of services to the University (see Paying an Individual - Payment for Services).

Additional resources: HMRC guidance EIM71105 – Research volunteers, lay participants and participants in clinical trials.

There are two methods for requesting payment:

  1. Payments Request Form (xlsx)  – used to request one payment to one payee.
  2. Payment Request Upload Form  (xls) – used to send multiple payment requests (5 or more) of a similar nature to the Central Payments Team. The requests must still meet the usual criteria for those typically submitted on payment request forms. For further guidance on using this facility please email:

Please note: Payment Request Forms must be sent to the Payments Team for input into Oracle.

They must NOT be input by departmental staff.


If the payment will be a recurring payment (three or more recurring payments), a Recurring Invoice Payment Request can be used to request multiple payments.

Payment Request Forms must be approved by at least one authorised signatory who is not the preparer (the authorised signatory listing is the same as the one used for off-system expense claims and non-purchase order (PO) invoices). When approving the form, the authoriser is confirming that the following conditions are met:

  • The payment is allowable;
  • The request is mathematically correct and is accompanied by all necessary supporting documentation;
  • The specific items to which the request relates have not been previously paid for by the University or another third party;
  • The specific items to which the request relates are not subject to a duplicate claim or payment request currently in progress with the University or another third party;
  • Specifically in the case of claims against research funding, the payment does not contravene any funding rules imposed by sponsors;
  • The general ledger or grant code(s) specified are valid and contain sufficient funding to cover the claim;
  • That the payment can be justified in terms of the University's Value for Money policy.

Please ensure electronic submission to the Payments Team includes an audit trail showing the approval by attaching the approver's confirmation emails and copying them into the submission.

Contact us

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       University of Oxford
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