A concise guide to volunteer agreements

A volunteer in a charity shop holding a box of donated items.

Many organisations/charities use a formal document called a volunteer agreement as a way of explaining and recording the expectations and any agreed commitment between the organisation/charity and its volunteers.

In our concise guide, we look at what the volunteer agreement is and what it entails.

Who are volunteers?

A volunteer is a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task without being paid. As such, they can choose how they wish to give their time.

The DBS definition of a volunteer is defined in the Police Act 1997 (criminal records) Regulations 2002 as: “Any person engaged in an activity which involves spending time, unpaid (except for travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses), doing something which aims to benefit some third party and not a close relative.

Volunteering takes place in every business sector, from the private and public sectors to the third sector. Their activities can be diverse and range from fundraising to mentoring, and from helping to run clubs and community groups to formal roles such as being a trustee.

Volunteers have fewer rights and less legal protection than paid employees. This is because relevant legislation, including the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Rights Act 1996, does not apply to volunteers. Regardless of this, volunteers should be treated fairly and with respect.

What is a volunteer agreement?

A volunteer agreement is a type of document which helps organisations/charities and volunteers to understand exactly what is expected of each other. It is designed to be a two-way agreement.

It can be phrased in terms of “rights and responsibilities” or “hopes and expectations.”

It’s important to remember that the volunteer agreement is not a contract (contracts are for staff), nor is it legally binding, so you do not have to have a volunteer agreement in place. If not, then you should consider how else you can show your volunteers what you expect from them e.g., via training and meetings.

As a result, there are pros and cons to the volunteer agreement.

What are the arguments for and against a volunteer agreement?

For:

  • The volunteer agreement provides a written reference of the relationship between the volunteer and the organisation.
  • It should clearly set out what is expected of the volunteer and what their commitment is.
  • It explains what the volunteer can expect from the organisation/charity.

Against:

  • There is a risk that it can be interpreted as a contract of employment, especially if it sets out regularly hours each week, or if it mentions promising to reimburse money for expenses rather than paying out expenses up front, or if it mentions perks of any kind.
  • The information could be duplicated and displayed in other documents such as organisational handbooks and policy documents.
  • Using “hopes and expectations” as the language can be open to interpretation due to its ambiguity.
  • As the volunteer agreement is not a legally binding document, it may be of limited use.

What should you include in a volunteer agreement?

In an agreement, many organisations/charities agree to:

  • provide an induction and the required training for the role.
  • give regular support to the volunteer.
  • assign a named person (usually a member of staff, not another volunteer) to provide support for the volunteer.
  • treat volunteers in line with an equal opportunities policy.
  • pay the volunteer’s expenses.
  • ensure they have insurance protection for volunteers.
  • follow good health and safety practice.

What can volunteers be expected to do under the agreement?

A volunteer agreement typically expects volunteers to:

  • Work within the organisation’s relevant policies and procedures, which could include health and safety, confidentiality, equal opportunities, and data protection.
  • Work within the boundaries of their role.
  • Honour any agreed time commitments required by the role and to inform the organisation/charity if they are unable to volunteer for any reason.

What signing the agreement might entail?

Many organisations like to have signed records as reference points, and in some cases for liability insurance purposes. If this is the case, it is important to explain the volunteer agreement is not a legally binding document.

To avoid creating a document that reads like a contract a disclaimer is advised as follows:

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.”

What does a volunteer agreement look like?

Volunteer agreements can be simple or complex, depending on the size of the organisation/charity and the various regulation it is required to follow.

As can be seen from the images below, a volunteer agreement can be very simple or it can be more complex.

Simple agreement example

 

Form-based agreement example

 An example of a simple volunteer agreement.

 

 Volunteer Agreement example

 

What is the UK law regarding volunteers?

The law around volunteers is less clear than it is for paid staff who work under Employment Law, as there is no “Volunteer Law” or “Volunteer Act”. However, there have been some cases where Employment Law has been applied when expenses, parks and language have been questioned.

Are there any age limits to volunteering? - Young people can volunteer; however, some organisations may impose a minimum age limit, which will likely depend on what the role entails (2&3). There is no upper age limit for volunteers, but some organisations may have their own restrictions, such as for volunteer drivers (4).

Volunteering if you are a non-UK citizen - Non-UK citizens can volunteer, but it is advisable to check with the UK Border Agency to ensure a non-UK citizen’s immigration status allows them to volunteer.

DBS checks – It is important to be aware that it is illegal to perform a DBS check on someone unless they are:

a) regularly caring for, supervising, training or in sole charge of a child or vulnerable adult. b) undertaking a regulated activity which involves contact with children or vulnerable adults and is:

i. of a specified nature (including teaching, training, care, supervision, advice, treatment, or transport)  or

ii. in a specified place (including schools, children’s homes, hospitals, juvenile detention facilities, adult care homes)  or

iii. ‘frequent’ (once a month) or ‘intensive’ (4+ times in a 30-day period) or overnight.

Volunteering cannot be forced - It is important to remember that you cannot force someone to volunteer.

Expenses and perks - It is advisable to pay for expenses up front rather then reimburse them. Also, to avoid any issues that could be considered as employment, it is advisable to avoid perks and material incentives as these could be considered as a form of payment.

Use of language in volunteer agreements - To ensure your volunteer agreement cannot be misinterpreted as a contract of employment it is advisable to ensure the language used reflects that it is for volunteering role e.g., “volunteer” not “employee;” “expectation” rather than “obligation”; “role” not “job”.

Data protection - Data protection is extremely important in the digital age. As a charity, you are likely to hold 'personal' data, as defined by the Data Protection Act 2018.  To comply with legislation and avoid facing costly fines relating to misuse or mishandling of confidential data, you must ensure that all information stored by your charity is kept accurate and up-to-date, and above all safe and secure.

Regarding volunteer data, your organisation needs to consider:

1. Do your volunteers know what you do with their personal information? Using the volunteer’s basic details on an application form to determine the selection process is implicit, for which you do not require explicit consent. However, if you then ask for explicit information such as gender, health, ethnicity, religion. Then you will require explicit consent.

2. The safety and security of the personal information that you hold. A lot of businesses keep digital records now, rather than paper files. These are ‘fair game’ for cyber criminals if they are not properly secured with two factor authentication (2FA) and encryption software. What can be more common is human error. Accidentally sharing details such as via bulk email messages that don’t hide everyone’s emails from all the recipients, can lead to a data protection breach. It is important to ensure only certain members of staff have access rights to the data you hold to ensure your volunteers are protected.

How you can ensure your charity and your volunteers are protected

Protecting your charity, staff and volunteers, and third-party visitors and suppliers, to ensure they are covered should something go wrong is important. Therefore, understanding the types of insurance available to your charity and what each policy can cover is vital.

Charities are no different to businesses and are exposed to a number of risks daily, including:

  • Financial instability.
  • Regulatory risk.
  • Loss of credibility among service users, families, and other stakeholders.
  • Exposure to liability claims or negligence claims.

At Markel Direct, we offer a range of insurance policies for charities and community groups.

Click the ‘GET A QUOTE NOW’ button for a quote for your charity insurance.

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