UK Volunteers & the Law

Before offering your services as a volunteer or a trustee in the UK it is worth taking a little time to understand the nature of your role, your rights and how you are treated by UK law. Elaine Carey, an employment solicitor at Bates Wells Braithwaite has compiled these notes for accountants considering a UK volunteer assignment. For more information please read the ICAEW's Volunteer Helpsheet.

Volunteers are:
  • Covered by the obligation on organisation to “ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment…are not exposed to risks to their health and safety” and to “give such persons (not being their employees) who may be affected in a prescribed manner information as might affect their health and safety”.
  • Covered by data protection principles under the Data Protection Act 1998.
  • Able to claim benefits while they are volunteering, as long as the only money they receive as a volunteer is only to cover expenses. If a volunteer receives Jobseekers Allowance, they can volunteer full time as long as they are still actively seeking employment, can attend job interviews at 48 hours’ notice and can take up paid work at one weeks’ notice.
Volunteers are not:
  • Entitled to claim unfair dismissal or a statutory redundant payment.
  • Covered by discrimination law.
  • Entitled to the National Minimum wage.
Normal expectations of volunteers by charities:
  • To undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check (formerly CRB check)
  • To act in accordance with the charity’s Equal Opportunities policy
  • To maintain confidentiality
  • To assign intellectual property rights that arise during the volunteering activity
Normal expectations of charities by volunteers:
  • To provide adequate training
  • To provide insurance for any negligence by the volunteer
  • To reimburse reasonable out of pocket expenses
The position of trustee carries legal duties and responsibilities which are set out in a mixture of statue and case law. A summary of the primary responsibilities is set out below:
  • Trustees are responsible for the proper administration of the charity
  • Trustees must accept ultimate responsibility for everything the charity does
  • Trustees have to act reasonably and prudently in all matters relating to their charity
  • Trustees must safeguard and protect the assets of the charity
  • Trustees have a duty to act collectively
  • Trustees must act in the best interest of their charity
  • Trustees must avoid any conflict between their personal interest and those of the charity
Trustees as directors:
Many charities are set up as companies limited by guarantee When this is the case, the
charity trustees will also be the directors of the company. The Companies Act 2006 sets out
the statutory list of general duties for directors, which are, in summary:
  • To act within their powers
  • To promote the success of the company
  • To exercise independent judgment
  • To exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence
  • To avoid conflicts of interest
  • Not to accept benefits from third parties
  • To declare an interest in a proposed transaction or arrangement.
Immigration status and volunteering:
  • Tier 2 migrants (employer sponsored migrants) are allowed to undertake voluntary work in addition to their sponsored employment. The Tier 2 Guidance states. "You can also undertake voluntary work in any sector You must not be paid for your work, other than the reasonable expenses outlined in section 44 of the National Minimum Wage Act." 
  • Tier 4 migrants (students) are restricted in their ability to undertake voluntary work. The number of hours they are allowed to work depends on the nature of their studies.
Type of course Number of hours:
Students on degree level courses (NQF 6 and above) Up to 20 hours per week during their term time and full time during vacations
Students on below degree level courses (NQF 3-5) Up to 10 hours per week during term time and full time during vacations
Students studying at a publicly funded further education college Up to 10 hours per week during term time and full time during vacations
© Elaine Carey
Employment Solicitor, Bates Wells Braithwaite