Changes to the shielding rules and how to keep your volunteers safe

Article date
11 August 2020
Primary interest
Voluntary sector

The government updated its guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable individuals on 1 August 2020 and paused ‘shielding’. Community groups and charities may be wondering how this affects their volunteers, staff and service users. Below are some common questions that we have had and some answers to help you when planning your services and involving volunteers, who may be clinically extremely vulnerable.

Can you remind me, who are clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (CEV individuals)?

The government guidance states that expert doctors in England have identified specific medical conditions that, based on what is known about the virus so far, place some people at greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Disease severity, medical history or treatment levels will also affect who is in this group. You can find a full list here. Until 1 August these individuals were required to ‘shield’.

What is ‘shielding’, can you give me some background?
  • In March the government published clinical guidance for those most at risk from coronavirus advising them to stay at home until end of June.
  • A package of support was provided to them working with local councils and the grocery industry etc. Many charities and community groups have been providing crucial support to their own beneficiaries and others with adapted services via phone and Zoom, as well as assistance with food shopping or other essential supplies.
  • On 1 June the guidance was relaxed: shielding individuals could choose to spend time outdoors, with members of their own household, or an individual from another household if they lived alone, whilst maintaining social distancing.
  • On 6 July the guidance was relaxed further and CEV individuals were able to spend time outdoors with up to 5 others from outside their own household, whilst maintaining social distancing, or as part of their ‘support bubble’ with another household if they lived alone or were single parents.
So what changed on the 1 August?
  • From 1 August the restrictions were relaxed significantly and ‘shielding’ has now been ‘paused’. The government has outlined what this now means in its updated guidance here.
  • The use of the term ‘paused’ means that lockdown could be reinstated by local authorities if there is an increase in the infection rate in a local area, such as what we have seen in Leicester.
  • One of the changes in this updated shielding guidance that may affect community groups and charities is that CEV individuals may now return to work (or volunteering) if the workplace/ place of volunteering is Covid-19 Secure.
So does that mean that it’s okay for staff and/or volunteers to return to face-to-face services? Isn’t there still a risk to those who are CEV?
  • This will depend on the level of risk and the mitigation of that risk identified in your risk assessment.
  • Both the government and the NHS still recognise there is still a heightened risk for CEV individuals.
  • When planning you face to face services, it is important to remember that all organisations, including community groups and charities, have a civil law duty of care to ensure that anyone who comes into contact with the organisation’s services is not harmed, this includes service users, volunteers and paid staff. Trustees of a charity or community group also have a similar legal duty of care in charity law. 
  • In addition to this, charities who are employers also have a specific legal duty to keep staff safe from harm under the Health & Safety at Work Act. 
  • Charities and community groups therefore need to consider the needs and health risks of their own volunteers and staff in line with their particular services.
  • Volunteers may wish to return and in some cases it may be safe to do so, but charities must risk assess each role and minimise the risks to acceptable levels as part of its duty of care.
  • Decisions should be based on the specific risks considering:
    • the role
    • the physical and social environment
    • an individual’s circumstances
  • The government’s guidance on working safely during coronavirus still suggests organisations should help staff (and volunteers) to work from home where possible and if the risk cannot be managed for face to face services. Therefore consider whether any work or volunteering can be done remotely or if it is possible to adapt roles so as to minimise risks for CEV staff and volunteers. NB: if you are adapting an employee’s role, you must do this via agreement. If you are unsure, please seek advice before making changes.
  • You should also check with your insurance provider if they will continue to  provide cover for your services, including cover for any volunteers who are CEV. This is likely to depend on the role and mitigation of risk, so completing your risk assessment first will assist you when speaking with your insurance provider. Please be aware of personal liability if you are continuing services for which you do not have public liability insurance in place.
  • NCVO provides helpful guidance here for managing volunteers and suggests that talking to volunteers about specific risks rather than blanket policies can help volunteers understand decisions you make.
I need further help with completing risk assessments, where can I find out more?

RVA hosted a couple of sessions on how to complete risk assessments in July, you can still view the slides and recordings of the sessions on our Coronavirus Community Action page here (under Contingency Planning and Adapting your Servces)

Further resources and support