Updated government guidance for organisations who involve volunteers

Author's position
RVA Advice Service Manager
Article date
17 November 2020
Primary interest
Voluntary sector

The government has now published guidance specifically for charities and voluntary organisations to better understand how they can safely and effectively involve volunteers during the pandemic. This guidance is in addition to the guidance issued about the national restrictions, as summarised in our earlier article here.

The following is a summary of the guidance and key points to note so you can see easily what is covered and how it may apply to your services. However, we recommend you also read the full guidance here for further clarity.

Who can volunteer

Volunteers are still encouraged to volunteer from home where they can do so. If they are volunteering outside of their home there are specific restrictions they must comply with such as the legal duty to self isolate and not volunteering in person if they are classified as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV). As an organisation you have a duty to ensure your volunteers comply with this and are kept safe. Remember that volunteers must not be obligated to volunteer, as volunteering is a choice that should always be made freely.

Workplace closures

Certain workplaces have been ordered to close by law. There are some limited exceptions, which you can find in the government’s earlier guidance here and also in the full regulations here. Charities and voluntary organisations delivering essential services may fall within the exemption but you also need to ensure you are Covid-secure and fulfil all the other requirements in the new guidance.

Volunteering in groups and around others

Where charitable activities fall within the exemptions, there is no restriction on the number of volunteers but charities must ensure that volunteers carefully follow social distancing guidance and the venue is Covid-secure. You will need to have a full and updated risk assessment in place for these activities.

Travelling to volunteer and while volunteering

You will need to ensure that you give appropriate guidance to your volunteers to walk or cycle where possible, or if they need to use public transport, that they should avoid busy times and routes. You may need to plan around this to accommodate volunteers.

Face coverings

Volunteers must wear face coverings in some public places unless reasonable excuse not to. They should also wear a face covering in certain indoor places. You will also need to give guidance to your volunteers around how to dispose of their face coverings and any PPE needed for the role.

Coronavirus testing

Certain volunteers may be classed as essential workers and would be prioritised for coronavirus testing, for example frontline volunteers in a homeless charity or substance misuse charity. A full list is linked in the guidance.

Ensuring volunteers and their workplaces are safe

Your organisation has a duty of care within Health and Safety legislation towards your volunteers to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. You are therefore under a duty to ensure your workplace is Covid-secure, that you display a poster confirming this, and that you risk assess your volunteer roles and activities taking into account the physical environment; the roles, activities or tasks; and the volunteers’ individual needs. Further resources are linked in the guidance.

Safeguarding volunteers

All organisations are responsible for safeguarding their volunteers and anyone who comes into contact with the organisation. You should therefore ensure that your volunteers are considered within your organisations’ safeguarding policies both in terms of keeping them safe and keeping others safe. There are useful resources linked in the guidance from NCVO on how to do this, and specific guidance on how to help safely during the pandemic.

Insurance and volunteers

You must have insurance to cover your specific activities. If your services have changed, you should review your insurance cover.

Volunteer drivers helping those during the pandemic do not need to contact their insurer to extend their insurance cover. However you should still carry out your your usual checks for recruiting volunteers.

Volunteers who claim benefits or who have been furloughed

People in receipt of benefits can volunteer whilst receiving benefits so long as they can continue to meet the conditions for the benefit they receive. You should check with them and accommodate this, such as any appointments they may need to attend around their benefits. There is further guidance linked from NCVO on this topic.

If someone is furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), during their furlough hours they cannot volunteer with their own employer or any linked or associated employer, but they could volunteer elsewhere. Further guidance on this is linked.

Involving volunteers in mutual aid groups and community support groups

If you are a mutual aid group, the guidance links some further helpful tools and resources from NCVO appropriate for your type of activities.

Further support