National Trust accused of exploiting interns

An article on the Graduate Fog website says the charity is exploiting a loophole in minimum wage law, but the trust has defended its scheme

National Trust HQ
National Trust HQ

The National Trust has defended its internship scheme after the charity was accused of exploiting interns and using them carry out the work of junior staff.

The careers and job seekers website Graduate Fog claimed that the charity’s use of interns in administrative and office-based roles across the organisation, including the charity’s head office, was exploiting a loophole in minimum wage law.

The charity, which according to the Charity Commission’s website recorded an income of £494m in the year to the end of February 2015, has 33 interns on placements of no more than six months.

According to figures from the National Trust, the charity has approximately 61,000 volunteers nationwide.

But Tanya de Grunwald, an author and the founder of Graduate Fog, said in an article on the website: "Anyone who can’t afford to work for months without pay won’t be able to start a career in charities. We’ve got to the position where working for a charity has become a luxury and charities exclusive clubs.

"Charities are way behind the curve on this and they need to wake up. The chief executive gets well paid and they often have fancy head offices, but don’t seem to have enough money to pay junior staff for real work. It’s unfair and exploitative."

In a statement, the National Trust defended its use of internships, pointing out that they supported projects, rather than everyday business, and that all out-of-pocket expenses, such as lunch and travel costs, were covered by the charity.

It said interns worked part time, ensured participants could do other paid work or continue in education.

"The National Trust believes that voluntary internships provide a great opportunity to involve a wide range of people in our work at the same time as gaining work experience of direct benefit for their future careers," the statement said.

"Clear guidance is provided to all staff that create intern roles to ensure that the opportunities we provide are as accessible, fair, well-managed and as meaningful as we can make them for participants."

The charity said a survey about its internship programme, carried out last year, found that 94 per cent of interns enjoyed their internships and 90 per cent would recommend the scheme to others.

"We are committed to developing the skills of all of our interns and work with them to set goals at the start of their placement," the statement said. "During the course of the internship, we monitor how these goals are being reached and look at what training opportunities there might be.

"While the National Trust cannot guarantee an internship will lead to paid employment, a good number of our previous interns have found employment with us and many more have gone on to find jobs in related sectors."

The criticisms come after the publication of a report last year by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which warned that unpaid internships should not be used to displace paid staff.

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