Volunteering

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The TUC and Volunteering England have produced a joint Charter for Strengthening Relations Between Paid Staff and Volunteers.

Read or download the charter

Volunteering England logoThe Charter sets out key principles on how volunteering should be organised and has been produced to help trade unions and employers as a guide to good practice in the involvement of volunteers in the workplace.

The Charter makes clear that volunteering is distinct from paid work. Roles that volunteers undertake should complement and not substitute those performed by paid staff. This guide clarifies the distinction between paid workers and volunteers and sets out how good relationships between staff and volunteers can best be fostered.

Listed below are some FAQs relating to the involvement of volunteers. More detailed guidance is available at the Volunteering England website.

FAQs about volunteering

What is volunteering?
Volunteering is any activity or work in the community for which someone undertakes a specific task but receives no payment. A volunteer freely gives his or her own time to a job without financial recompense.

Volunteers and the Law

Do volunteers need to have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check?

A Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check provides information about an individual's criminal record. Volunteers must be checked before they take up certain positions where they would be working with children or vulnerable adults. There are two levels of check: Standard and Enhanced. Enhanced checks are aimed more at people caring regularly term for those at risk, or training or in sole supervision of them.

Do volunteers have to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority?

The Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) is a new body set up to prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults. If volunteers work with or want to work with vulnerable adults or children, they need to apply to register with the ISA in the same way as an employee. Unlike employees, the ISA does not charge an application fee for volunteers.

If somebody has a record of unsuitability for working with vulnerable groups or they have committed certain offences, they may not be able to register with the ISA, put on an ISA Barred List and may not be able to work with vulnerable people.

Do volunteers have employment rights?

Volunteers do not have a contract of employment and so don't have the rights of an ordinary employee or worker. These include the right to a minimum wage, holiday and sick pay, and other statutory rights. While volunteering is not contractual, it is good practice for part-time or full-time volunteers to be given some form of 'volunteer agreement' setting out mutual expectations and relevant organisational policies.

Do volunteers qualify for the National Minimum Wage?

Since volunteers are not workers, they are therefore not covered by the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. This means they do not qualify for the national minimum wage (NMW). Under the Act, some full-time volunteers may be classed as 'voluntary workers'. As long as certain guidelines are followed, these volunteers should be covered by the voluntary worker exemption (Section 44) to the National Minimum Wage Act and therefore will not be eligible to receive the minimum wage.

For more information, see Who gets the minimum wage from GOV.UK.

Does the Data Protection Act apply to volunteers?

Yes.Volunteers have the same rights under the Data Protection Act as employees. This means the organisation must comply with rules on personal data held on a computer or in paper files.

Does Health and Safety Legislation apply to volunteers?

Yes. Organisations have a duty of care towards their volunteers. In practice this means taking all reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of harm coming to them, either through action or inaction. Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 also places a duty on employers (ie an organisation that employs at least one paid member of staff) "to ensure, as far as reasonably practical, that persons not in their employment, who may be affected by their undertaking, are not exposed to risks to their health and safety" and "to give information as might as might affect their health or safety".

Do Working Time Regulations apply to volunteers?

The EU Working Time Regulations 1998 cover matters such as daily working hours, rest breaks and holiday entitlement. They only apply to workers and employees working under a contract, so organisations are not obliged to follow this piece of legislation when working with volunteers.

Volunteering Agreements

What is a Volunteering Agreement?

A volunteering agreement sets out the roles of volunteers. The agreement used by an organisation should be drawn up in discussion with trade union representatives and issued to all new volunteers. It should also set out details for how the management of volunteers will be dealt with and how problems will be handled. Other issues should include how the organisation will involve and support volunteers, what volunteers can expect from the organisation and what in turn the organisation expects from volunteers. Information should be made available on recruitment and selection, support and supervision, as well as an outline of the different volunteer roles and activities available. In addition this document should include equal opportunities and diversity, insurance, health and safety and confidentiality policies.

Volunteering agreements will not be appropriate for all volunteering opportunities. For example, agreements are unlikely to be valuable for one-off volunteering opportunities, particularly common in environmental and youth volunteering.

For more information, see Volunteering England's information on Volunteer Agreements.

Do volunteers get a contract?

Volunteers have no contractual relationship with an organisation. However, when a person undertakes to volunteer for an organisation, an agreement is reached between them and the organisation. This may be verbal or it may be confirmed in a written document or letter. The agreement will confirm that the relationship is based on volunteering rather than employment and is not a contract of employment. As such, this agreement would have no legal significance.

Will having an Agreement contribute to the creation of a contract with volunteers?

We have heard concerns that having a volunteering agreement or problem solving policy in place in effect puts in place a contract for volunteers and as such confers employment rights. All volunteers should be given a clear description in writing of the volunteering opportunity, including agreed hours of work. But this does not in itself create a legal obligation on either the organisation or the volunteer. In fact, having an agreement will help set out intentions and expectations for both parties. It would also help to keep things clear if a clear distinction is made between procedures covering paid staff and volunteers, such as grievance and disciplinary, equal opportunities, health and safety and confidentiality policies.

For more information on avoiding creating a contract, see Volunteers and the law.

Are volunteers entitled to expenses?

Volunteers should be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses. These could include:

  • Travel to and from the place of volunteering.
  • Travel undertaken in the course of volunteering.
  • Meals taken during the course of volunteering (usually a single meal up to a certain value per day).
  • Postage and telephone costs if working from home.
  • Protective clothing or other essential equipment.
  • Expenses relating to childcare or care of other dependents.

Only out-of-pocket expenses should be paid – not a flat rate, as volunteers in receipt of state benefits are entitled to receive out of pocket expenses only. Any money received which is over and above out-of-pocket expenses may be regarded as income by HM Revenue and Customs, and is therefore taxable. It may also be viewed as a sign of a contractual relationship and should therefore be avoided to make things less complicated for both the volunteer and the organisation.

Volunteering and Benefits

Does volunteering affect entitlement to welfare benefits?

Volunteering should not affect a person's entitlement to benefits.

People claiming Job Seekers Allowance can do as much voluntary work as they want as long as they remain available for and are actively seeking work. This will mean that they will have to show that they are looking for work and applying for jobs where appropriate. Social security regulations say that claimants can volunteer in any "organisation the activities of which are carried on otherwise than for profit".

With Incapacity Benefit, there used to be a rule that people could only volunteer for 16 hours a week. This rule no longer applies, and people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit can volunteer for as long as they want.

The Disability Living Allowance is paid in acknowledgement of the fact that life for someone with a disability may be more expensive – for instance, someone with mobility problems may be reliant on taxis. Volunteering will not affect whether an individual receives this benefit or not.

For more information, see the Job Centre Plus publication Volunteering While Receiving Benefits (PDF).

Can Volunteers claim expenses if they also receive welfare benefits

Volunteers can receive reimbursement of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses (any expenses that they have incurred because they are volunteering) without their benefits being affected.

There have been some problems in the past where volunteers on benefits have been given advance payments (for instance for something that would cost a lot, such as childcare or a weekly travelcard). The Social Security Amendment (Volunteers) Regulations 2001 clarified income support, JSA, and Incapacity Benefit rules to make it clear that volunteers can receive advance payment for expenses to be incurred in the future. Paying expenses in advance helps ensure that volunteers without the financial means to cover costs up-front can still actively volunteer.

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