The Legal Status of Volunteers

VolunteersYour charity could get into legal problems if you don’t clearly distinguish between its paid staff and volunteers.  It’s possible for volunteers to claim they have the same rights as employees, including claiming unfair dismissal for example.

A written role description for your volunteers can help make it clear what the boundaries and expectations are.  It’s important that the role description could not be confused with an employment contract or job description.  For example it must not require volunteers to work particular hours.

Insurance to cover volunteers

Make sure your charity’s insurance covers your volunteers.  Even if your charity doesn’t employ staff, you may still decide to take out employers’ liability cover for volunteers.

Check whether your insurance policy:

  • includes volunteers
  • covers the activities volunteers will be doing
  • states any age limits for volunteers

Expenses for volunteers

Volunteers aren’t paid for their time but should be paid for any out-of-pocket expenses. These expenses could include:

  • travel
  • postage and telephone costs if working from home
  • essential equipment, such as protective clothing

Volunteers should provide receipts for any expenses they incur.

If a volunteer receives any type of reward or payment other than expenses, they may see this as a salary and they could be classed as an employee or worker. This then gives them some employment rights.

Criminal records checks

If your volunteers will be working with children or vulnerable adults, by law you can get a Disclosure and Barring Service check (DBS, formerly the Criminal Records Bureau) on them.

The DBS will search police records to identify people who are unsuitable for certain types of work, especially work involving children and vulnerable adults.

DBS checks are free for volunteers.

Paying Trustees for Services

Trustee ExpensesMost trustees are unpaid, but all trustees can claim reasonable out-of-pocket expenses. 

A charity can pay a trustee for the supply of any services over and above normal trustee duties.

The decision to do this must be made by those trustees who will not benefit. They must decide that the service is required by the charity and agree it is in the charity’s best interests to make the payment and must comply with certain other conditions

Examples of services that may be provided by a trustee in return for payment under the power in the Charities Act include:

  • the delivery of a lecture
  • a piece of research work
  • the use of a trustee’s firm for a building job
  • the occasional use of a trustee’s premises or facilities
  • entering into a maintenance contract with a trustee’s firm Trustee expenses and payments (CC11) 12
  • providing curtains or decorating materials for hall premises
  • providing timber for a building
  • providing specialist services such as estate agents, land agents, management and design consultants, computer consultancy, builders, electricians, translators, and graphic designers

The power cannot be used to allow payment for auditing services as a trustee cannot legally act as an auditor for his or her charity

Recording the proposed arrangement in the charity’s minutes will not be enough to meet the conditions for an agreement. There must be a separate written agreement which must cover certain issues, but there is no set format. This will depend on the nature of the service being provided, and the level of detail needed to cover it.

More detailed guidance can be found here in document CC11