Planning, Policies and Procedures

Volunteers and the Law

As an organisation, it is important that you keep appropriate boundaries between volunteers and paid staff, who have a wealth of protection under employment legislation. Volunteers do not have the same employment rights as paid staff, but in treating them fairly and consistently you may avoid the difficulties which can lead to legal issues.

Legal issues most often arise when volunteers have made complaints against an organisation that they feel have not been properly addressed using internal processes. Some organisations unknowingly create written, or unwritten, contracts of employment in the way they engage with volunteers which may make it possible for volunteers to pursue legal action against them.

Remember though, that your organisation’s health and safety, and data protection policies, apply to everyone in your organisation, including volunteers.

It is important to note that most volunteer/organisational relationships end amicably and it does not mean that all of your policies and procedures need to be rewritten: the emphasis is on your working practices and these should be reviewed to make sure they fall outside a contractual relationship.


  • Do what you can to make sure that volunteers are treated fairly and have access to good procedures for settling disputes
  • Make it clear that the roles of volunteers are voluntary; i.e. unpaid
  • Avoid using legal, or employment jargon, like ‘work’, ‘contract’ or ‘job descriptions’: the volunteer relationship is one of expectation rather than obligation
  • Recognise that you can’t require volunteers to provide a service in return for training, and ensure that training is relevant to the role carried out
  • Don’t pay flat rate expenses or anything more than out of pocket expenses – the occasional thank you such as a party or social outing is fine

Exeter CVS offer useful training for organisations that utilise volunteers, including a course entitled ‘Volunteers and the Law’. Find out more using this link:

Volunteer Agreements

Volunteer agreements are used to set out both an organisation’s commitment to its volunteer, and what it hopes for from its volunteers. A volunteer agreement can act as a reference point for the volunteers and a reminder to the organisation that it should meet the standards of good practice that it has set itself.

You may decide however to include the information in other places such as your volunteer policy or handbook, in which case a volunteer agreement may not be necessary for your organisation.

Care must be taken to set out what the organisation expects from its volunteers and how it treats its volunteers in order to avoid the creation of mutual obligations that might be regarded as a contract.

Typically in an agreement an organisation might commit to:

  • Providing volunteers with a written role description
  • Provide a full induction and any training necessary for the role
  • Provide a named supervisor or person the volunteer can go to for support
  • Reimburse out of pocket expenses where possible
  • Provide a safe working environment
  • Treat volunteers in line with its equal opportunities policy
  • To implement good health and safety practice
  • To provide insurance for volunteers
  • Ask for a reference for the volunteer

Volunteers might be expected to:

    • Carry out their tasks in a way that corresponds to the aims and values of the organisation
    • Work within the polices and procedures of the organisation including health and safety, equal opportunities and confidentiality
    • Let the organisation know if they are unable to volunteer for any reason

In “Volunteers And The Law”, Volunteering England suggests using the following wording at the end of a Volunteer Agreement:

“This agreement is not intended to be a legally binding contract between us and may be cancelled at any time at the discretion of either party. Neither of us intend any employment relationship to be created either now or at any time in the future.”

It is advised against asking volunteers to sign volunteer agreements, as this can appear contractual. The following gives examples of the must have, recommended and helpful elements of an agreement:

Writing A Volunteer Policy

A Volunteer Policy will give an overall framework for volunteer involvement in your organisation. Having a policy demonstrates the following:

  • Commitment
  • Consistency
  • Clarity

What should a Volunteer Policy cover?

  • Introduction to your organisation
  • Recruitment process
  • Induction and training
  • Your Volunteer Agreement (sometimes known as a Volunteer
  • Charter)
  • Expenses procedure
  • Support and supervision
  • Insurance
  • Equal Opportunities
  • Health and Safety
  • Problem Solving
  • Confidentiality

For an example of a volunteer policy, please see the downloadable, and adaptable, volunteer handbook resource in the section about managing and supporting volunteers.

Health and Safety

Although health and safety legislation is designed to protect paid workers, it does require organisations to protect other people too, including service users and volunteers. It is therefore very important that you include volunteers in your health and safety policy making and procedures. An example health and safety policy statement can be found in the downloadable volunteer handbook.

To demonstrate that you have exercised a ‘duty of care’, it is sensible to assess any potential risks that volunteers may face in the course of their duties and to take steps to minimise them. Each volunteer role should be subject to a risk assessment. For further advice about health and safety, go to the Health and Safety Executive website:


It is good practice to ensure that you review your insurance policies to ensure that your volunteers are covered: this would include your employer’s liability insurance and/or public liability insurance.


  • Your policies should explicitly mention volunteers, as they are not always automatically added to your cover;
  • Check to see whether your insurer imposes upper and lower age limits for volunteers;
  • Produce a risk assessment for each volunteer role: there is a downloadable template in this section;
  • Inform volunteers who use their own car as part of their duties that they will need to let their insurance company know they are doing so.

Lone Workers

  • Avoid lone working where possible;
  • Know that lone working is occurring, and carry out risk assessments;
  • Have contact arrangements in place, so that someone knows the whereabouts and schedule of the lone worker and can start emergency procedures if necessary;
  • Advise volunteers to avoid particularly hazardous activities, e.g. using dangerous equipment or unfamiliar tasks if working alone.

Volunteer Drivers

Volunteer drivers are those that use their vehicles as part of their duties, not just to drive to and from their volunteer placement.

If your volunteers are transporting passengers for your organisation, then it is your responsibility to ensure that volunteers have an up to date driving licence and that their car is roadworthy. In this case, you will need to keep copies of both parts of their licence, insurance certificate and MOT certificate.

Even if they are not carrying passengers, the following applies:

  • Licences should be full, not provisional;
  • Volunteers should ensure their car is road worthy and they are fit to drive;
  • Volunteers should inform their insurance company that they are using their vehicle for volunteering duties: this will not normally incur extra premiums, but failure to do so may invalidate their insurance when it is being used in the course of their duties.

More information about your responsibilities when using volunteer drivers, can be found here:

Safeguarding and Volunteers

If you are involving volunteers in work with children and young people and/or vulnerable adults you will need to look carefully at the role and determine the need for additional screening and checking. The safeguarding measures used should be proportionate to the risk involved in the role.

It is good practice for your organisation to have a safeguarding policy that all staff, including volunteers, is familiar with. Your policy will work best if it is bespoke, reflecting the scope, and the nature, of your organisation’s involvement with children and young people and/or vulnerable adults. As a general rule however, it would cover the following areas:

  • The roles and responsibilities of all parties;
  • The promotion of a sage working environment and a culture of care;
  • Best practice when interacting with young people and vulnerable adults;
  • Clear guidance and procedures for those working with young and vulnerable adults, especially for recording and reporting incidents;
  • The provision of training and support;
  • Legal and best practice requirements.

It may be appropriate to include safeguarding training in your induction process, or to offer further safeguarding training to volunteers whose role involves close contact with children and young people and/or vulnerable adults.

This helpful link provides further information about safeguarding and volunteers:

DBS Checks

If a volunteer role involves close and unsupervised contact with children and young people and/or vulnerable adults, then your organisation has a legal responsibility to carry out DBS checks to make sure that your volunteer is not barred from activity of this kind.

If you are unsure whether a volunteer role requires a DBS check then use these flowcharts to decide if they involve ‘regulated activity’, which means activity which would require you to carry out a check:

Regulated Activity relating to children and young people

Regulated Activity relating to adults

Unless you carry out over 100 checks a year, you will need to register with an umbrella body to carry out DBS checks. A list of these can be found using the .gov link below. DBS checks are free for most volunteers, providing they meet the list of conditions contained on the .gov website:

Do remember though, that your umbrella organisation will still charge you a handling fee. This may vary, but the current handling charge for Devon County Council’s DBS checking service is £8.

Involving Young Volunteers

Good practice guidelines

Good practice requires that parental/guardian consent is required for all volunteers under the age of 18 years: do check that your insurance covers this.

This shows that the volunteer’s parent/guardian understands the role that the young person will be undertaking, what it involves, when and where they will be, and indicates that they consent to this.

Additional permission should be sought if the young person will be undertaking activities away from the premises where they normally volunteer.

General advice

People under the age of 18 are legally classed as minors (unless they are married) and organisations should take this into account when involving them as volunteers.

A risk assessment needs to be made, in order to decide whether placing a young person in a volunteer role would put them, or the people with whom they are working, at risk. However, by adhering to some basic principles most organisations can involve young people in their work:

  • Young people should not be left unattended
  • It is safer if young volunteers are supervised by two or more adults
  • Potentially dangerous activities should not be undertaken

Volunteer coordinators should encourage volunteers in the under 18 age group to discuss their activities with their parents or guardians and highlight that they can be a good source of emotional support.

You will need to carry out a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check on any persons who will come into close regular, unsupervised contact with under 18 year olds, or are likely develop a relationship of trust with a volunteer minor at any given time: this would typically be the volunteer coordinator/supervisor.

It may not be necessary to perform similar checks on the entire staff, or volunteers who are unlikely to end up in a one-on-one situation with a young volunteer. Don’t forget that efficient recruitment processes, training and supervision are also effective safeguarding tools when used alongside DBS checks.

Payment Of Expenses

Why reimburse expenses?

Although people give their time freely they should not be out of pocket through their volunteering. However, no more than out of pocket expenses should be paid, as this could have legal implications, putting your organisation at risk of unwittingly creating a contract of employment with your volunteers.

What if we can’t afford to pay expenses?

If you can’t afford volunteer expenses now, make it clear to any potential volunteers as soon as possible. Consider costing them into future funding applications, or applying for a small grant specifically to cover volunteer expenses.

You may not have enough money to cover travel, but are you able to reimburse volunteers for phone calls, stationary etc. or are you able to supply tea and biscuits? Small rewards like this can go some way to showing appreciation for your volunteers.

Alternatively, look at the ‘Managing and Supporting Volunteers’ section for ideas on giving back to your volunteers’ even if you are working on a shoestring.

Volunteering and Benefits

It is compulsory for volunteers to notify benefit advisers of their volunteering activities, but organisations working with volunteers cannot force the issue if a volunteer decides not to disclose this information. Organisations working with volunteers do not have a duty to inform the job centre who is volunteering for them.

The GOV.UK website states that you can volunteer and claim benefits if ‘the only money you get from volunteering is to cover expenses, like travel costs’ and ‘you continue to meet the conditions of the benefit you get.’

Contact Jobcentre Plus for up to date information.

Accepting Volunteers From Overseas

Generally organisations are free to take on any individual for a genuine volunteer role; it is good practice to ask the individual to ensure that their visa gives them permission to volunteer in the UK.

European citizens

There are generally no restrictions on volunteering by people from the European Union or the European Economic Area (please consult the UK Border Agency if someone from Bulgaria, Romania or any other recently accessioned country wants to volunteer).


Refugees are allowed to do any type of work including volunteering.

Asylum Seekers

Since 2014, asylum seekers can volunteer at any stage of the asylum process for registered charities, voluntary or public sector organisations, providing that the role ‘is not a substitute for employment (i.e. fulfilling a role that a salaried worker would normally fulfil)’. (Home Office)

This should not be regarded as a substitute for immigration or legal advice. The UK Visas and Immigration can advise on any issues.

See the Home Office Asylum Policy Instruction: Permission to Work for further details:

Asylum Policy Instruction – Permission To Work

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