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Volunteers and the Law

Updated 16/9/13

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The law around volunteers can be quite complex, depending on circumstances. The following is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, but what we have found that is likely to be useful. Suggestions for other issues which ought to be covered welcome. NOTE: much of this is now out-of-date.



Don't forget that volunteers working for you are covered by some of the same (or similar) regulations as employees - for example on health and safety, insurance. So see the Employment issues page. But do note that providing some employee 'benefits', such as training not directly related to their work, could muddy their status such that legally they become employees.

Criminal Record Checks

Police checks, criminal record, basic, standard or enhanced, free volunteer disclosures. Some of the search terms which should bring you here!

Criminal record checks for Standard and Enhanced Disclosures are for organisations which work with children or vulnerable adults, provide health care, or certain professions such as accountancy. They are only available to employers who are registered with the Criminal Records Bureau. Such registration costs 300, plus 5 for each additional counter-signatory (person able to sign applications on behalf of the registered body). Organisations can group together and register under an umbrella body.

The individual (employee or volunteer) and registered employer apply jointly for a Standard Disclosure (updated version of criminal record certificate), listing unspent and spent convictions and cautions, or, for some types of work, an Enhanced Disclosure also listing police information such as suspicions that did not lead to a caution or conviction. The Basic Disclosure (still not available at Jan 04 - previously referred to as a criminal conviction certificate) will only cover unspent convictions and any employer (registered or not) will be able to require employees, volunteers or applicants to provide a copy.

The fee for standard disclosures is 24, enhanced £29 (but fees have increased since this was written). However, checks on volunteers are free but they still have to go through a registered body so costs are involved!

See Disclosure and Barring Service on Gov.Uk, or Sandy Adirondack's legal update page for more info.

Charity shops, other public fundraising

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act you are not allowed to ask an individual to declare spent convictions unless they will be working with vulnerable people. So an organisation can only get Basic Disclosure on charity shop volunteers, unless the shop has vulnerable people working there.

The basic check is applied for direct by the potential volunteer (or employee), with minimal verification. It is NOT free for volunteers, and is unlikely to be much use in preventing fraud etc. round handling money.

Children's charities

Trustees New recruits to the management committee/trustees to children's charities (for this purpose, a charity whose workers normally work in regulated positions, as per Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 section36) must be "checked against the register" - Protection of Vulnerable Adults (PoVA) list which shoudl be included in standard disclosures. See Department of Health for PoVA guidance.

Travel, drivers

On own car use, one suggestion on the UKVPM forum is to use information on AA web site to separate the costs of car ownership from the running costs, and re-imburse the latter only. HM Revenue & Customs mileage rates (see taxation page) are the maximum before tax would hit.

Volunteer Drivers

If you pay Volunteer Drivers anything for ferrying clients etc. around, it is worth checking HM Revenue & Customs guidance (was leaflet IR122). It covers how to work out whether tax is due on any mileage or other allowances received towards the cost of running the car.

Insurance for volunteers driving their own vehicles in the course of their tasks can be an issue - business cover is likely to be required. RNIB has compiled a list of insurers who are more helpful and found that "even sowing the seed that we might suggest other insurers to our volunteers has always, to date, resulted in a successful outcome". Increases in premium would be seen by Inland Revenue as part of their approved mileage rates and shouldn't be reimbursed separately. You may be able to find more on the Association of British Insurers, but 'Motor Conference' information page has disappeared at July 09.

Older volunteers

VITA (Volunteering Initiative for the Third Age) was a project of WRVS (now Royal Voluntary Service), to raise the profile of volunteering by older people, and to remove barriers. Project closed Nov '06.

Insurance can be an issue leading to upper age limits being imposed. Proper health and safety risk assessments could be a better way of deciding whether a volunteer is suitable for/capable of a particular job.