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Fighting fund levy: Q&A

Information about the levy of members to support the UCU fighting fund.

Please read the message from Jo Grady, UCU general secretary about the levy of members to support the UCU fighting fund alongside her further message on 29 June.

What do I need to do to pay the levy?

You do not need to do anything. The money will be taken from your account by direct debit, in the same manner as your subscription payments.

Can the levy be collected under direct debit rules?

Using the direct debit instruction authorised by members, UCU can collect payments direct from a member's bank account as long as appropriate notice is given, under the rules of the direct debit scheme.

UCU are required to give members 10 working days' advance notice of any payments, or changes to payments. The first notification has given members 60 days' notice of our intentions to deduct the levy. Further formal notification will be provided approximately 30 days before deduction. UCU has endeavoured to give members as much notice as possible prior to any levy payment is taken and has listened to and acted on members' comments and suggestions.

How do I stop the levy being collected by direct debit?

To stop collection of the levy, and your normal subscription payments, by direct debit you will need to notify UCU of your intention to transfer to an alternative method of payment. 

I have an outstanding fighting fund claim relating to action taken in the past year - will I be paid?

Yes. We expect to be able to cover all claims arising from action taken this year in due course and when resources allow - and are continuing to process incoming claims as quickly as we can. 

Do members in all sectors have to pay the levy?

Yes. The levy is established under Rule 11 in UCU's rulebook. The national executive committee (NEC) took the decision under Rule 11 to apply the levy to all members on the grounds that the Fighting Fund is there to support all members, regardless of sector.

Does everyone pay the same amount?

No. When the NEC voted to approve the levy in February, it was with the understanding that the rate would be flat. This was based on an interpretation of the UCU rule governing the levy according to which there was no provision for a variable rate. However, having taken legal advice and done further technical work with the company that services our direct debit systems, UCU's elected officers (the honorary treasurer, president, president-elect and past president) have agreed in principle on a solution that will prevent a flat rate from being imposed on all members. .

The officers will defer both instalments, or the second instalment, of the levy (which is due to be taken in two instalments, of £10 on 31 August and £5 on 30 September) indefinitely for members in certain UCU subscription bands. In other words, some groups of members will avoid the levy altogether, and others could may a reduced rate of £10 rather than £15. (See UCU's subscription bands here.)

Having reviewed donations received, incoming claims, and further savings made from other areas of the UCU budget, the officers have decided to exempt all members in subscription bands earning under £20,000 from the levy. In other words, if you earn under £20,000 (according to the information which we hold about you in our membership database), you will not be levied.

If you earn £20,000 or more, you will be levied £10 on 31 August. On Friday 11 September there will be a special meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) to review the financial position of the fighting fund and determine whether it is necessary to proceed with the second, £5 instalment of the levy for members in all or some subscription bands. 

What else are you doing to make the fighting fund fairer on lower paid members?

This year we have changed the way the fighting fund is administered so as to maximise the support available to lower paid members - by introducing a higher cap on total claims for members earning under £30,000, and ensuring that members in that category could claim more for each day of action which they took. We have also prioritised processing payments to members who indicate that they are facing financial hardship.

Are any categories of member exempt from the levy?

Members on student free, standard free, retired, attached and exempt (sabbatical, parental and unpaid leave) membership will not be levied. However, we do ask members in these groups to make a voluntary solidarity donation to the fund to help us continue to support members. Please visit our website to make a donation.

How much is the levy intended to raise?

Once we factor in the exemptions listed above and other groups of members that cannot be levied for technical reasons, we are expecting to raise approximately £1m.

The union has never levied members before - why do we need it now?

The levy is an extraordinary measure which your elected reps on the national executive committee (NEC) authorised on a one-off basis in February this year. They took this decision in recognition of the fact that UCU members had taken, or were expected to take, an unprecedented amount of industrial action in 2019-20.

In particular, the authorisation of the levy was prompted by the decision of the higher education committee (HEC) on 30 January to call 14 further days of action in our two national higher education disputes (over USS pensions and pay & working conditions), in addition to the 8 days which the HEC had already called in November and December. This made these disputes our largest ever in terms of strike action taken, and necessitated extra measures to ensure that members would be supported financially throughout them. 

How can members and branches help mitigate the impact on lower paid members?

In order to further mitigate the impact of the levy on lower paid members, UCU decided on 29 June to seek further donations from branches and members before the levy is triggered. To donate please click here.

Can my branch make a donation from its account without consulting our whole membership?

Yes. According to the local model rules for branches, only the branch committee needs to approve a donation of this nature. This is because it is deemed to be expenditure in the proper conduct of the business of the branch, and it is an internal transfer of funds within UCU rather than to an external body. For more information please see our model local rules [74kb] , in particular 6.3.1 and 6.3.4.

However, we recognise that branches may wish to consult their whole membership before proceeding with a particularly large donation and we encourage branches to make every effort to do so in the time available.

Does the levy need to be taken now - can't we wait to take it?

The levy was initially authorised by the national executive committee (NEC) in February this year. We have waited as long as possible to trigger it, by making savings elsewhere in our expenditure and transferring funds from other parts of our accounts for the current year. However, we are now at a point where the fighting fund needs to be replenished to ensure that we can continue to make payments to members who claim from it. If we were to delay the levy any longer, we would need to pause our processing of payments from the fund.

What efforts have you made to avoid having to trigger the levy?

This year we have made transfers to the fund from other areas of the 2019-20 budget where we have been able to save money. For instance, we have recovered most of the costs of the postponed 2020 UCU Congress and we have made significant savings in a number of other areas. We have also made transfers from members' subscriptions which were in excess of those anticipated in our budget, because of the higher than expected growth in our membership this year. The total amount transferred to the fund by these methods so far has been £1m.

We have also transferred the maximum amount of budgeted members' subscriptions into the fund which we are allowed to transfer under rule and existing congress policy - this involved doubling the amount originally provided for under our 2019-20 budget.

Finally, we have mounted an extensive fundraising campaign among our membership and trade unions in the UK and across the world.

Can't you just transfer some money from UCU's reserves?

No. UCU's rules and congress policy establish that the fighting fund is to be funded out of a percentage 'of each subscription received in each year' (emphasis added). While subscription income in the current financial year can be allocated to the fund, income from previous years that now forms part of UCU's reserves cannot be allocated in this way. We are not in a position to change this until UCU Congress can meet again (October at the earliest).

Will there be more levies in future?

No further levies have been authorised by the NEC and we do not currently anticipate that any further levies will be required. This levy has been authorised on the understanding that it is a one-off payment designed to cover an unusually large amount of action taken by an unusually high number of branches across all our sectors in the past year.

I do not have a direct debit arrangement with UCU, how do I pay the levy?

We have written to members asking for a voluntary solidarity donation to the fund to help us continue to support members. To donate please click here.

Last updated: 28 July 2020