Student Unions

Student Unions might have the seemingly simple purpose of democratically representing the interests of their members. However, their very nature makes them complex, and to us fascinating, organisations to work with – be that balancing the needs and demands of multiple and varied stakeholders, the relationship with the university, frequent changes to student trustees, to name just a few.

There are also technical matters, such as accounting for donated services or (commonly) multi-employer defined benefit pension schemes, and not to mention VAT!

Our team understands student unions and can bring that experience to supporting you.

We can help with:

Understanding grants and contracts

Under the SORP there can be significant implications of getting the distinction between grants and contracts wrong as this can lead to considerable differences in the amount of income to be recognised – as well as determining the VAT position.

But there are no hard and fast rules; each agreement and amount of income will have specific features, and each should be considered on an individual basis.

Our team has considerable experience in dealing with the ‘grant or contract’ question.

Reviewing designated funds

We can work with you to review and restructure designated funds to make the nature and purpose of each fund clearer. This can include discussing with you the allocation of capital items to a designated fund so as to reflect the importance of the capital investments made.

This can be particularly helpful for student unions as you frequently invest significantly in assets and infrastructure for the benefit of the students and appropriate presentation in the accounts helps to highlight to this investment to the members.

Structures to support new income generation

Growing income from student and charitable activities allows student unions to offer further services to students.

Diversifying income streams does not come without its challenges – different sources of income may mean:

  • Different methods of recognition
  • Different reporting requirements
  • Different VAT treatments (with an impact on partial exemption)
  • New regulatory requirements
  • The need for new systems and processes
  • New or revised internal controls
  • The need for a subsidiary company if this is not primary purpose trading

We can assist with all of the above and can work with you in advance of the new income streams arising so that there are no hidden surprises when the new activities commence.


Good governance is key. It helps to provide a strong foundation as you work to achieve your aims and help your beneficiaries. It supports compliance with applicable laws and regulations, as well as promoting attitudes and a culture throughout the organisation that can help to unite everyone and everything as you fulfil your objectives.

Good governance also sends a strong message to funders, regulators, and other stakeholders. It allows you to demonstrate that you are well-run organisation, helping to increase trust and confidence. It may also help to attract funding for expanding current projects or for running new projects.

The Charity Governance Code  is not a legal requirement and it has not been designed to be used as a regulatory framework. It should be used alongside other guidance, in particular the Charity Commission’s formal guidance.

We can work with you to implement the Good Governance Code, whether that be from scratch or considering how this overlays with your existing governance arrangements. We will also advise you on the appropriate disclosures to make in your Trustees’ Annual Report.

Trustee Induction and Training

Keeping the Board fresh with the appropriate skills is essential to the running of any charity. However, too many changes can provide a lack of continuity or clear and focussed direction. This can be a real issue where there is frequent turnover of student trustees – not least as different trustees can bring different ideas as to what they would like the charity to achieve, and how to do it.

It is essential that new trustees and existing trustees are aware of their legal responsibilities.

We provide trustee training and have designed a training programme that ensures that all trustees receive training on trustees’ responsibilities, finance, risk management, and governance matters over the course of a year.

Finance team and mentoring

We work with finance teams to ensure that they are focused on adding value. This may, at times, be more formal training; at other times, it will be talking to them and guiding them on what to think about, or different approaches that could be taken to a solution.

Your finance team is the backbone of your strategic decision-making process. We’re here to ensure it’s equipped for this critical role.

We help you optimise the performance of your finance team, so that it can support your organisation.


Benchmarking can be an invaluable tool in allowing an organisation to see how it compares to its peers and competitors. A benchmarking review can help in assessing financial performance and in identifying potential new sources of income or cost reductions.

As specialists in student unions, we can provide insights into your performance against your peers. This has proved useful for other membership organisations we’ve advised who are looking to demonstrate the value they bring to their members.

As specialists in the sector, we are also able to bring the benefit of our wider expertise in the sector, and may also be able to report on how you compare on non-financial matters, such as Board composition or other governance arrangements.

Donated Services

A common feature of student unions is inclusion in the accounts of donated services – usually in the form of premises provided by the university, but may also include other services provided by the university free of charge (such as security or staff in certain roles such as payroll or HR support).

Valuing these may, or may not, be straightforward – but inclusion of these in your accounts is required under the SORP.

The method and valuation should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they reflect the current circumstances – not to mention to satisfy your auditors!

We can provide guidance on the approach used by other organisations.

Tax and VAT

VAT is an ever-changing minefield – and even more so for charities as they are likely to be impacted by partial exemption.

As an organisation changes, ensuring you remain VAT compliant is essential – especially where an organisation has many different income streams with different VAT treatments, as student unions do.

There are also key VAT considerations for student union regarding events, as these may or not may not be considered to be fundraising events.

We can assist by providing a full review to ensure that VAT is being properly applied, and we can also review your partial exemption calculations to check whether these are still appropriate and most beneficial for the charity.

Trading Activities

We can review the nature of trading activities, and whether these are primary purpose, fundraising, or commercial activity (including the impact of any corporation tax and VAT matters).

Where the student union trades with the general public, as well as its members, we can advise on whether a trading subsidiary is required.


It's important that your finance system provides the intelligence you need to inform strategic decisions. We can help advise on the design and implementation of finance systems.

We also often carry out full reviews of systems and controls, testing for weaknesses and recommending improvements to controls. Such a review can help form part of a charity’s risk management processes.

Accounts as a communication tool for members

As membership organisations, student unions need to communicate transparently to demonstrate the benefit of your work for your membership. We have worked with student unions to alter the layout and presentation of the accounts to improve this.


Of course, our specialist charity audit team can carry out your audit and ensure your compliance requirements are fully met.

How we’ve helped

  • consideration of the nature of trading activities, and whether these are primary purpose, fundraising, or commercial activity (including the impact of any corporation tax and VAT matters)
  • the relationship between a union and student clubs and societies (including the administration, financing, and accounts presentation of these)
  • the relationship between a union and the university, including impact on governance/oversight, and the provision of services by the university free of charge
  • trustee training that included significant number of laws and regulations to which student unions must adhere
  • advising on student trustees who are remunerated
  • presentation of funds making them more clearly disclosed and accessible to the users of the accounts
  • accounting for block grant and additional university funding


What we really valued by the Goodman Jones was approach was the way you challenged us but did so in a way that was respectful of the way we work.  I am very impressed with the customer experience.

Goodman Jones must be a large organisation but the way you’ve interacted with us has always felt very personalised to us.  Certainly doesn’t feel faceless. 

The level of communication, responsiveness and the sheer time you’ve invested in us to understand, challenge and support has been great.

I would recommend Goodman Jones 100%.

 - Michael Wigg, CEO, University of Westminster CEO


Kam Dhoot, Head of Finance & Business Development. University of West London Students’ Union

It was refreshing when Goodman Jones took over our audit and their professional management of the process meant that they turned things around fast and always delivered when they said they would. That was fantastic in terms of having the confidence that we in turn could meet our deadlines.

Over and above the audit process they are good at responding to our queries but also identifying ways to help. For example, they helped us amend the format of the disclosure regarding funds so that it showed a clearer picture of the balances.

That enabled us to present the position to the board and give a true picture easily.

Kam Dhoot, Head of Finance & Business Development. University of West London Students’ Union