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Involving volunteers

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Advice on involving and managing volunteers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Volunteering and national lockdown restrictions

  • From 5 November, national lockdown restrictions have been enacted.
  • The government has developed guidance aiming to help organisations and groups understand how to safely and effectively involve volunteers during the pandemic.
  • Anyone can volunteer. However, you should make sure volunteers, staff and service users are as safe as they can be.
  • Where possible, people should volunteer from home.
  • If people cannot volunteer from home, they can volunteer outside their home if they follow the social distancing guidelines and no on in their household has symptoms of coronavirus or as tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Voluntary and charitable activities are exempt from a number of restrictions. Therefore, when volunteering outside their home, volunteers can:
    • meet in groups of any size indoors or outdoors while volunteering
    • travel to volunteer or while volunteering
  • All volunteering roles should be risk assessed and risks minimised to acceptable levels as part of your duty of care to your volunteers.
  • Decisions should be based on the specific risks considering:
    • the role
    • the physical and social environment
    • an individual’s circumstances.
  • Talking to volunteers about specific risks rather than blanket policies can help volunteers understand decisions you make and help avoid unnecessarily extreme policies.
  • Volunteer-involving organisations must ensure their workplaces meet coronavirus safety standards.
  • Government guidance includes the different risks faced by the following groups of people:
    • Those who are self-isolating because they, or someone they live with, feels unwell should not leave the home, including to volunteer. These people should only volunteer from home while they are isolating, and only if they are well enough.
    • Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable can volunteer from home and are advised not to volunteer outside the home.
    • If formal shielding advice has been put in place in an area where those who are clinically extremely vulnerable live or volunteer, then they are advised not to volunteer outside the home.
    • Those who are over 60 or clinically vulnerable (aged over 70, pregnant or with an underlying health condition) should take particular care when choosing to leave the home, however there are no specific restrictions on them volunteering.
    • Everyone else should continue to stay at home as much as possible, work or volunteer from home if they can, and limit contact with other people.
  • Wales has introduced travel ban restrictions for people living in parts of England under high or very high alert. Exceptions to the travel ban include:
    • to work or provide voluntary or charitable services if this cannot be done from outside the area
  • Volunteers are often grouped with service users or employees on insurance policies but it is worth checking if you are unsure.
  • To learn more about volunteering and covid-19 see the government guidance on how to help safely.

How volunteers can make a difference

There are lots of ways volunteers can support people who need help. Some of the ways volunteers are helping out include:

  • helping with shopping and running errands for those who are self-isolating
  • driving people to/from health appointments or other essential appointments
  • helping to organise food deliveries from food banks and/or supermarkets
  • helping to spread awareness about coronavirus scams
  • running online wellbeing classes for people
  • running online activities for children who are staying home
  • online or telephone befriending to those who need to stay indoors.

CVS Brent have resources available to help you manage covid-19 volunteers, including a role description and NCVO has information about how you can volunteer to help and support others during the coronavirus

Redirecting volunteers if you cannot take on any more

  • If you cannot take on any more volunteers, tell volunteers about other groups who may need their help.
  • You can also share your volunteers with another organisation if that enables your group and theirs to better coordinate activities. Check in with your volunteers often, to make sure they are not taking on too much.
  • Find your local Volunteer Centre. They will be able to tell you which other organisations or community groups are operating in your area.
  • Many areas have a community-run website where volunteers can post offers of help. Here is an example of a list on the London SE1 community site.
  • Join a covid mutual aid group. There are hundreds of local self-organising Facebook and Whatsapp groups all over the UK. These have safeguarding and accountability guidelines that every volunteer/group member must follow.
  • If your organisation is approached by an employer offering support during the pandemic but you are unable to host volunteers or do not currently need support, you can signpost them to our guidance volunteering and coronavirus: how can you help.
  • They can take a look at Volunteering MattersHelpforce AssistBritish Red Cross and Business in the Community who can help them get support to where it’s most needed. 

Coronavirus testing for volunteers

  • Coronavirus tests are now available for all essential workers including NHS and social care workers with symptoms, and anyone with symptoms whose work or volunteering cannot be done from home. This includes:
    • all essential workers and volunteers including NHS and social care workers with symptoms (see the full list of essential workers)
    • anyone with symptoms whose work or volunteering cannot be done from home (for example, animal shelter volunteers)
    • anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus and lives with someone who works or volunteers in the above roles.
  • Tests may also be available for NHS and social care volunteers without symptoms, but this is in limited situations and you should check with your organisation.
  • Testing is most effective within three days of symptoms developing.
  • You can apply for a test directly if you are in one of the groups above. You can select a regional test site drive-through appointment or home test kit. Home test kit availability will initially be limited but more will become available.

Furlough and volunteering

  • While furloughed under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, employees can’t volunteer for their employer or a company linked or associated to their employer.
  • Furloughed staff can volunteer for other organisations, or through neighbourhood or community initiatives.
  • Organisations can accept furloughed staff from another charity or organisation as volunteers, provided this is not a ‘swap’, hasn’t been planned or arranged between organisations, and the volunteer has a genuine choice. ‘Swapping’ furloughed staff as volunteers is likely to be seen as an abuse of the scheme by HMRC.
  • Involving volunteers works best when you don’t directly replace staff with volunteers. If you need to fill tasks previous carried out by furloughed staff, rethink the role into specific tasks so it is more appropriate for a volunteer. Give volunteers flexibility about how they can help. It's worth considering concerns that furloughed staff may have about job substitition.
  • You can signpost staff to volunteer roles outside your organisation and if possible, support them with a reference. NCVO’s page about volunteering and coronavirus suggests ways your staff can offer their help.
  • No pressure should be placed on furloughed staff to volunteer. All volunteering should be voluntary, as explained in our volunteers and the law guidance.
  • If people are volunteering in your organisation without a volunteer manager or coordinator, give them a named contact person who is aware of what their role involves and plan how to support and motivate them.
  • Volunteers who are furloughed from their employer may be called back to work at very short notice. Include this in your plans for inducting or on-boarding new volunteers, for exit and handover processes, and consider having a combination of volunteer roles that can be delivered in shorter time blocks.
  • For more information, please read our blog about volunteering and furlough.

Insurance and volunteering

Volunteer expenses

Volunteer expenses are expenses incurred as a result of a person volunteering.

  • Not everyone can cover their own expenses when they volunteer. Paying expenses means volunteering is open to more people, including those from disadvantaged communities.
  • Remember to pay volunteers for any expenses they may incur. This could include:
    • fuel or mileage costs
    • food and drink taken while volunteering
    • hygiene items, such as disinfectant, plastic gloves or hand sanitiser.
  • Having an expenses policy will help you be consistent over what is and is not an expense. NCVO’s guidance on writing an expense policy can help with this. If you are setting up a community group, you should still develop an expenses policy.
  • To pay volunteers you can:
    • ask them to spend the money, keep receipts and return them so you can pay them back based on actual expenditure
    • give them money upfront, tell them to get a receipt and return any change.
  • Make sure you keep a record of amounts paid, to whom and when. If volunteers are unable to confirm that they have received money, take screenshots or photos of conversations with them where they confirm they have received reimbursement.
  • For more information read our volunteer expenses guidance.

Paying for goods or services

If someone is self-isolating and unable to leave their home, a volunteer may purchase their essential household shopping, medicines (prescription or otherwise) or other essential items. The self-isolating person can either pay for these up-front or reimburse the volunteer afterwards. There are several ways to do this:

  • Place their order online and share the order reference number with a volunteer who can go and collect the order. This is usually called a ‘click and collect’ service and is offered by many large supermarkets.
  • Order a voucher or gift card which can be topped up with money online or over the phone and given to a volunteer or collected by them in store and used to buy the shopping. Many large supermarkets are offering this service including Aldi, Asda, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.
  • Give a volunteer their pre-paid cash card to pay for their shopping. The volunteer would need to pick up this card from the person isolating in advance of doing the shopping.
  • A self-isolating person can pay for their shopping over the phone at the checkout, after the volunteer has picked it up. You can check with your local store to see if they offer this service.
  • A volunteer can use their own debit card to pay for the self-isolating person’s shopping and be reimbursed afterwards. Alternatively, a self-isolating person can give their debit card to a trusted family member to pay for their shopping. They should never give their debit card to a volunteer who is not a trusted family member. Starling Bank are providing a debit card designed to be used by a volunteer who is a close family member to pay for shopping.
  • As a last resort, a volunteer can pay for the shopping by using their own cash and being reimbursed afterwards, or by collecting cash from the person isolating before doing the shopping.

For the above options, please bear in mind the following:

  • A volunteer should give receipts of any orders collected or purchases made to the self-isolating person and return any change, cards or vouchers with balance remaining.
  • If the volunteer has used their own card, cash or other payment method to pay for the shopping, they should be reimbursed by online payment (bank transfer or PayPal), by cheque or cash. Please note, it is always up to the volunteer if they wish to give their bank account/PayPal details to the person they are helping.
  • A self-isolating person should not share any unnecessary details with the volunteer purchasing or collecting their shopping, and vice versa.
  • Make any exchanges of shopping purchased, cards, vouchers, cash or receipts by leaving them on the doorstep to ensure you maintain the two-metre distancing rule. If you are handling these items you should wear gloves and/or make sure you wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after to reduce the likelihood of virus transmission. Alternatively, use anti-bacterial gel and always keep your hands away from your face.

Safeguarding for volunteer managers

Coronavirus means that volunteers will be helping a broad number of people, some of whom may be vulnerable due to age, illness or disability. This includes people who have been asked by their doctor to ‘shield’ themselves (staying indoors at all times for 12 weeks), those who are self-isolating, or those at a higher risk from the virus. Before helping, everyone should have a basic understanding of safeguarding and who to report to if there are any concerns.

  • If you are supporting or organising volunteers, you should understand:
  • Verify the identity of people who wish to volunteer, eg ask to see a driving license.
  • Look at the roles being carried out and think about the risk to volunteers and the people they are helping.
  • Based on the risks, organisations should choose the appropriate level of DBS check.
  • Make sure everyone understands they have a responsibility to safeguard people from harm or risk of harm.
  • If a volunteer is worried about someone, listen to their concerns and take them seriously. Record what you are being told. A safeguarding policy will help you set out how volunteers can report concerns. Tell the relevant authority – this could be:
    • the local authority safeguarding team
    • the police
    • Action Fraud

Safeguarding for informal volunteer-led groups

  • Informal groups or networks of people (such as mutual aid groups) who don't have a process for recruitment decisions do not need to carry out DBS checks, however they should make clear to beneficiaries that volunteers have not been checked.
  • If you think a role carries a higher level of risk that requires these checks or additional support, it is often best to work through an established organisation via a Volunteer Centre.
  • Here are some ways you can help safeguard beneficiaries:
    • Do not overstate the checks that have been carried out on volunteers – this might create a false sense of security for beneficiaries.
    • Ask people to volunteer in pairs, observing social distancing rules where possible.
    • Be clear why roles have certain limitations and stay within them, eg not going into people’s houses.
    • Follow the up-to-date government guidance to stop the spread of the virus, including hand washing and keeping two metres away from people being helped.
    • Have clear processes for handling money.
    • Don’t collect or store personal details of people unless absolutely necessary. See the data protection section.
    • Know how to recognise and report harm or risk of harm.

DBS checks and volunteers

Only a few roles need a DBS check by law. These are roles involving ‘regulated activity’. Regulated activities include transporting, teaching and caring, including personal care to those who are vulnerable due to age, illness or disability.

  • Many common coronavirus-related volunteer roles are not regulated, and therefore do not require a DBS check or barred list check. These include:
    • shopping for people who are voluntarily self-isolating
    • picking up prescriptions
    • driving (with the exception of transporting patients)
    • befriending
    • posting mail
    • delivering items or dog walking.
  • If you think a volunteer in your organisation might be carrying out a regulated activity, use the government’s DBS online tool to find out whether you need to take action.
  • If the purpose of the volunteer role is to support someone who is self-isolating or shielding, this does not make this regulated activity.
  • Even if someone becomes ill while self-isolating or shielding, if the purpose of the volunteering role is to support them to distance themselves from others, it is unlikely this role is regulated.
  • You don’t need a DBS check to help out a family member.
  • As a guide, ask yourself ‘would supporting this person have been regulated before they self-isolated?’ If the answer is no, then it is not likely a regulated activity
  • It is a criminal offence for barred individuals to undertake regulated activity with children or vulnerable adults. An organisation will be held liable if it knowingly places someone who is barred from regulated activity with children or vulnerable adults.
  • There are three types of DBS check. A basic check costs £23 and there is no eligibility requirement. Standard and enhanced checks are free for volunteers but are only available for certain roles.
  • Find your local umbrella body and they will manage the process of running checks with the DBS.
  • Always weigh up the time and cost required to carry out DBS checks on volunteer roles. See the current information on fees.

Data protection

If you are handling personal information, there are some simple steps you can take to minimise risks.

  • Data protection rules will not stop people from helping others during the coronavirus outbreak but should be considered if you are asking for personal data.
  • Personal data is information that relates to an identified or identifiable individual – this could be a volunteer, or someone being helped by a volunteer.
  • The law contains standards to help you handle peoples’ information. Whether you are a small community group or an established charity, you need to know who is handling data and that they are doing it in a responsible way.
  • Here are six points to remember:
    • Clarity: Be honest about what your organisation will do or is doing with personal data. Tell volunteers not to ask for or share anyone’s personal data or health data, unless there is a specific reason to do so.
    • Sharing: This is only acceptable for specific reasons. Public safety is one of them. Your organisation may be able to lawfully identify other reasons to slow or prevent the spread of coronavirus. Don’t share anyone’s personal data on websites or social media platforms.
    • Act lawfully: Handling personal data is only allowed in certain situations. Common reasons include the person would expect you to be handling their data (legitimate interest), you have the person’s consent, or someone’s health or safety is at risk. If someone is likely to be surprised you are handling their data, more steps should be taken to tell them what you are doing and why.  
    • Security: Store personal data securely. Try to use password-protected documents or devices. If using paper, lock it away. We have guidance about how to store personal data.
    • Minimise: Only ask for the data you need. Don’t keep it when you no longer need it.
    • Record: Keep records of decisions your organisation has made about the use of personal data. These could be as simple as bullet pointed notes or a list in a spreadsheet, or in a data protection policy
  • Certain sensitive information, including health data, is classed as ’special category data’. This data should only be handled with consent, to safeguard someone at risk or to save someone’s life.
  • For more information look at the steps we recommend in how to comply with GDPR, or check out our data protection and volunteers guidance.
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) understands that organisations may struggle to maintain data protection standards at this time. They have said they will not penalise organisations where they have had to divert efforts away from activities such as responding to subject access requests. You can find more information in their blog post.

Recognising and reporting scams

  • Coronavirus has led to an increase in scams and false offers of help. Common scams include:
    • cold calling homes and offering to help those self-isolating with shopping
    • fundraising, door to door or online, for donations to develop a covid-19 vaccine
    • scam emails offering fake products such as anti-bacterial gels or a cure for coronavirus.
  • Make all your volunteers aware of current scams.
  • Tell volunteers to remind those they are helping not to give out credit or debit card details, personal identification numbers or passwords.
  • Help your volunteer show who they are by providing them with an email or text message with your group or organisation’s details, and a contact telephone number.
  • Tell your volunteers to report anything suspicious regarding fraudulent activity to your organisation or the person leading volunteers.
  • You or your volunteers should report any concerns to Action Fraud 0300 123 2040.
  • For more information to safeguard against scams, visit the National Trading Standards website. Their campaign Friends Against Scams will help your volunteers to recognise scams and help those they are helping to be aware of them. They also offer a free elearning course.

Additional help finding and supporting volunteers

NCVO has been working closely with the Volunteering Matters, NAVCA and the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership to support how volunteers are involved during the coronavirus crisis.

  • Local organisations and community groups should approach their Volunteer Centre, CVS or local authority for support and information.
  • The Emergencies Partnership is currently piloting an online ‘Get help as a local organisation’ service in London, where regional voluntary sector liaison leads will be linking local organisations with local or regional responses of support.
  • Local organisations can make a request for support, which is then reviewed by local liaison leads. Needs that cannot be met are escalated to a regional or national level. If you are in in London, speak to your Volunteer Centre or CVS for details on how to access this service.
  • Organisations requiring support involving volunteers at a regional or national scale can contact the national volunteering coordination cell.
  • Requests can be from all sectors considering developing a new volunteering scheme or being connected with existing volunteering organisations.

Webinars on involving volunteers

Involving volunteers during the pandemic – what you need to know

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How to involve and safeguard volunteers during coronavirus

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Volunteering in a pandemic: Lessons from volunteering organisations

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Page last edited Nov 18, 2020

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