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Involving volunteers

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This page explains how volunteers can best be engaged and supported during the covid-19 pandemic. This page gives practical ideas for working with volunteers and links to other relevant Knowhow pages. This page is for anyone who recruits or manages volunteers – including volunteers who manage other volunteers.

On 21 February 2022, the government announced plans to lift all remaining covid-19 restrictions. The plan is set out in section three of the paper, Living with Covid-19 on GOV.UK.

Volunteering: Living with covid-19

  • The government isn't instructing those who can volunteer from home to do so. People can volunteer from home, from outside their home or in the workplace.
  • Volunteers who test positive for covid-19 or have the main symptoms of covid-19 should stay at home and avoid contact with other people. Read our guidance on volunteers and self-isolating.
  • It's no longer necessary for employers to explicitly address covid-19 issues in any risk assessments. Employers may still choose to cover covid-19 in their risk assessment. Employers should continue to carry out health and safety risk assessments and follow official public health guidance. Find out more in our guidance on managing covid risk.
  • Guidance on reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including covid-19, in the workplace on GOV.UK identifies a range of principles organisations can consider.
  • To minimise the risk of spreading covid-19, you can encourage volunteers to:
    • get vaccinated – see our guidance on volunteers and covid-19 vaccinations
    • avoid crowded spaces where possible
    • consider wearing a face covering particularly if they come into contact with people they don’t usually meet
    • increase ventilation by opening windows when meeting indoors
    • stay at home and avoid contact with others if they test positive
    • continue to wash their hands regularly and for 20 seconds.
  • For some volunteers, going to the workplace may cause concern. They may be worried about the ongoing risk of catching or spreading covid-19 and how this might affect them and the people they live with and/or care for, particularly if they’re at higher risk. The following steps can help.

      Volunteers and self-isolating

        • It’s no longer a legal requirement for volunteers to self-isolate. Volunteers should follow public health advice and stay at home and avoid contact with other people if: 
          • they have symptoms of covid-19 even if the symptoms are mild
          • they’ve tested positive for covid-19. They should get a PCR test to check if they have covid-19 as soon as possible.
        • If volunteers have tested positive for covid-19 they should stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days. They should continue following this advice, until they’ve received two negative test results on consecutive days and they don’t have a high temperature.
        • Organisations shouldn’t ask volunteers who have covid-19 to leave their home and volunteer. They should encourage them to stay home and avoid contact with other people.
        • If a volunteer doesn't have symptoms, but tests positive on a home lateral flow test, they should report their result and avoid contact with other people.
        • If a volunteer lives with or has stayed overnight in the household with someone who has covid-19, they’re advised to volunteer from home if they’re able to.
        • If a volunteer’s a contact of someone with covid-19 but doesn’t live with them or didn't stay in their household overnight, they’re at lower risk of becoming infected and should carefully follow the guidance on living safely with respiratory infections including covid-19 on GOV.UK.
        • If a volunteer is staying at home and needs some help with shopping, collecting a prescription or a friendly chat, they can self-refer for help by calling the NHS Volunteers Responders on 0808 196 3646 (08.00–20.00, seven days a week). For more information see the NHS volunteers’ responders portal.

        Supporting volunteers who are at high risk from covid-19

        Recruiting and inducting during the pandemic

        Planning for volunteer roles

        Inducting volunteers

        Supporting volunteers in your team

        Volunteers and covid-19 vaccinations

        • To find out more about the vaccination programme, read our guidance on the covid-19 vaccination programme.
        • On 31 January 2022 the government announced that the covid-19 vaccine requirement for workers and volunteers deployed for the provision of Care Quality Commission regulated activity, vaccination as a condition of deployment (VOCD), would be paused so a consultation could take place.
        • The outcome of the consultation between 9–16 February along with the latest scientific evidence means that the government will bring forward regulations to revoke VOCD. The regulations came into force on 15 March 2022 ahead of 1 April 2022 when regulations extending the requirement to health and wider social care were due to come into force.
        • Employers may want to consider introducing a specific policy to outline their approach to vaccinations for staff and volunteers. Before doing so, employers should talk with staff and volunteers or the organisation’s recognised trade union to discuss what steps to take. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has developed a template vaccination policy that reflects a voluntary approach.
        • Collecting health data is classed as ‘special category’ data due to its sensitivity. Your use of the data needs to be fair, relevant and necessary for a specific purpose. The ICO outlines data protection considerations for collecting and processing vaccination data. If you want more support on data protection issues relating to covid-19, you can contact NCVO’s trusted supplier data protection specialists Hope and May on 0330 111 0013.
        • If a volunteer does not want to be vaccinated, you should listen to their concerns and keep these and their vaccination status confidential. Employees and volunteers should be reminded to treat others with respect regardless of their decision over having the vaccine.
        • Employers can support volunteers that are hesitant but not medically exempt to get the covid-19 vaccine by:
          • communicating clearly the benefits of having the vaccine
          • sharing with volunteers reliable sources of information, such as:
        • If you feel that it’s important that your entire workforce is vaccinated, you should proceed with caution. There may be a range of reasons why individuals do not want to take the vaccine. Before doing so, employers should discuss what steps to take by talking with:
          • staff and volunteers
          • or the organisation’s recognised trade union.
        •  It’s a good idea to get legal advice before introducing a mandatory vaccination policy.

          Covid-19 testing for volunteers

          • There's no law in England that requires volunteers to be tested for covid-19.
          • From 1 April 2022 the government is no longer providing free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public in England. There's limited symptomatic testing for a small number of at risk groups including those who:
            • have a health condition meaning they are eligible for covid-19 treatments
            • are going to hospital for surgery or a procedure 
            • work in the NHS or social care 
          • Further details of which groups that are eligible for free testing can be found on the NHS website
          • A volunteer with symptoms of covid-19 should stay at home and avoid contact with others.
          • If you want to get tested in England, you can buy a covid-19 test from some pharmacies and retailers in person or online. You can’t order tests by calling 119.
          • If as an employer you want to require all staff and volunteers to regularly test for covid-19, you should first talk with either: 
            • staff and volunteers
            • a recognised trade union or other employee representatives. 
          • You should agree with staff and volunteers:
            • how the expense of testing will be covered. If you're requiring employees to be tested, any cost should be covered by the employer.
            • how testing will be carried out.
            • how staff and volunteers will get their results.
            • the process to follow if someone tests positive for covid-19.
            • pay if someone needs to self-isolate but can't work from home.
            • how someone’s absence would be recorded if they need to take time off work.
            • how testing data would be used, stored and deleted in line with data protection law (UK, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)). Under GDPR, collecting health data is classed as ‘special category’ data due to its sensitivity. Your use of the data needs to be fair, relevant and necessary for a specific purpose. The ICO outlines data protection considerations for collecting and processing testing data. If you want more support on data protection issues relating to covid-19, you can contact NCVO’s Trusted Supplier data protection specialists Hope and May on 0330 111 0013. 
          • Any decision after that discussion should be: 
            • put in writing, for example in a workplace policy 
            • made in line with the organisation’s existing disciplinary and grievance policy. 
          • If you can’t reach an agreement with staff and volunteers, it’s a good idea to get legal advice before bringing in a testing policy. For more information read Acas’ guidance on workplace testing for covid-19.

          Paying for goods or services

          • If someone's staying at home as a result of testing positive for covid-19 or having the main symptoms of covid-19, a volunteer may purchase their essential household shopping, medicines (prescription or otherwise) or other essential items. The person staying at home 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 AldiAsdaM&SMorrisonsSainsbury’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 staying at home in advance of doing the shopping.
            • Use a dedicated online volunteer reimbursement service. vHelp is an online service that helps organisations make quick, secure and low-cost transfers to reimburse volunteers’ expenses. The process is cashless and done online. Fast reimbursement means that volunteers are not left out of pocket for long periods of time.
            • A person staying at home 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 person’s shopping and be reimbursed afterwards. Alternatively, the person staying at home 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 provides 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 staying at home 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 person staying at home 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's always up to the volunteer if they wish to give their bank account/PayPal details to the person they're helping.
          • A person staying at home shouldn't share any unnecessary details with the volunteer purchasing or collecting their shopping, and vice versa.

          Retaining and engaging volunteers

          • Organisations may continue to see shifts in both those who step forward to volunteer with them and also those who choose to pause or stop their volunteering activity. With high numbers of covid-19 cases, this might be for a variety of reasons including:
            • volunteers getting sick and needing to self-isolate
            • volunteers being concerned about the omicron variant and potential increased risk of getting covid-19
            • volunteers not feeling comfortable with an organisation’s approach to managing covid-19 risk.
          • To manage this, you need to consider how you:
            • can keep volunteers with different needs, feeling reassured and engaged
            • will manage a changing pool of volunteers.

          Supporting volunteers to feel reassured and engaged

          • Communicate clearly how your organisation is managing the risk of covid-19. Explain the steps your organisation is taking to protect the health and wellbeing of volunteers and why. It may be helpful to have your approach explained in writing as well as explaining it in person. Give volunteers the opportunity to discuss any concerns they have about the organisation’s approach with a named person or volunteer manager.
          • Where possible, be flexible with your volunteer roles and activities. Be mindful of the fact that some volunteers will feel more vulnerable than others. If a volunteer has particular concerns about doing an activity or role, see if there are ways in which you can alleviate their concerns or be flexible in what you ask them to do.
          • Be honest about the challenges. Volunteers are often mainly motivated by the cause and empathetic of the challenges you may be facing. Be transparent about timeframes, what your organisation can offer and where you may need additional support. Remember they're ‘on your side’ and bring energy, ideas and time to help you achieve your goals.
          • Seek volunteers’ views at regular intervals. Ask volunteers how they're finding giving their time and what could be better. Always feedback to them on any changes you make due to their feedback.
          • Take the time to thank volunteers for their efforts. Provide regular feedback to volunteers on the difference they're making to the people you are working with or your cause. This could be how many people you have reached or a case study of how someone has benefited from your work. Research shows many volunteers highly value informal thanks and feedback. Read our guidance on thanking volunteers.
          • Proactively contact those who have chosen to pause or stop volunteering. This may be due to a change in their circumstances or new concerns about getting covid-19. If possible, acknowledge the change in their circumstances and their worries. You may want to see if there are alternative volunteer roles that would better suit their situation. If not, ‘keep the door open’ for them to return to volunteering. If they've chosen to stop volunteering with your organisation, try to make sure you end the volunteering relationship well. To do this, read our ending volunteering checklist.
          • Read our general tips for ensuring your volunteers stay with your organisation.

          Managing a changing pool of volunteers

          • Ask volunteers for the help you need. For example, if your volunteers are still actively engaged, would they be willing to take on additional responsibilities – such as inducting new volunteers or checking in on how new volunteers are finding their role. Sometimes people would be keen to help but just need to be asked.
          • Be flexible and where possible ask volunteers to be flexible too. You may find an increasing number will have to stay home and avoid contact with others as a result of a positive covid-19 test result or developing symptoms. In order to try and prepare for this possibility, talk openly to new and current volunteers about the need for volunteers, where possible, to be flexible in what they do and how. 
          • Be prepared to reduce your offer. If you can't carry out your service safely and effectively it's important to be prepared to acknowledge this. It may be helpful to:
            • consider how you might communicate this with those you work with
            • make sure you know what other organisations are doing locally. This will help you know where you can signpost individuals whom you're unable to provide support.

          Additional help for finding and supporting volunteers

          NCVO has been working closely with the Volunteering MattersNational Association for Voluntary and Community Action and the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership to support how volunteers are involved during covid-19.

          • Local organisations and community groups should approach their Volunteer CentreCouncil for Voluntary Service (CVS) or local authority for support and information.
          • The VCS Emergencies Partnership is providing a Get help as a local organisation service, 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 can't be met are escalated to a regional or national level. If you're based in London, speak to your Volunteer Centre or CVS for details on how to access this service.
          Page last edited May 04, 2022

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