The legal status of full-time volunteers

13 November, 2017

Charities rely heavily on their volunteers but would giving full-time volunteers legal status be helpful or a hindrance?


Currently, full-time volunteers have no legal status and a number of charities have asked the government (in a written submission to the Lords Select Committee on Citizenship & Civic Engagement) to give full-time volunteers legal status largely it seems to encourage more young people to volunteer perhaps by taking a ‘domestic’ gap year. They cite examples of other countries such as the US and Germany which have well established and successful social action programmes for young people which require full-time attendance.


So what particular problems do full-time volunteers experience in the UK?


Full-time volunteers are not entitled to National Insurance Credits. This contrasts with those on Jobseeker’s Allowance, caring for children or sick relatives or doing jury service who do qualify.


Also, charities must be very careful to limit any training they give to volunteers to that needed to carry out the volunteering activity in question. Anything beyond that, for example, personal development training, could provide ammunition to a volunteer that they are in fact a ‘worker’ or ‘employee’ and entitled to all the rights that go with that position.


It is not clear what the legal status proposed by the charities would look like. However, concern has been expressed by others in the charity sector that a specific status for full-time volunteers could create a two-tier system for volunteers, disadvantaging those who are unable to commit to the specified hours needed to qualify for full time status for financial reasons or due to care commitments.


The Lords Select Committee on Citizenship & Civic Engagement will report their findings by the end of March next year. Alongside this, The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is also carrying out an independent review into full-time social action and we will keep you updated on both of these initiatives once full reports are published.


In the meantime, if you have any queries about the status of charity volunteers or need help drawing up a Volunteer Agreement, please contact our employment specialists in the Charities Team: Rhona Darbyshire.


Update: 6 February 2018


The outcome of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport review into full-time social action has now been published and they have concluded that legislative change to allow a legal definition of full-time volunteering is not needed at this time although they accept the situation is not ideal.


We still await the outcome of the Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement (due at the end of March) and once we have that, we will review the position of full time volunteers in the round.