Volunteering Week – guidance on volunteering during the pandemic updated in England
Government updates guidance to reflect step 3 of the roadmap for easing restrictions.
Between 1 and 7 June every year, volunteers’ week is a chance to recognise the fantastic contribution volunteers make to communities and to say thank you for that contribution. The event is supported and celebrated by charities and organisations small and large across the UK. For more information on volunteers’ week and how to get involved, please see the Volunteering Week website here.
On 17 May 2021, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) updated its guidance for organisations and groups in England on how to safely and effectively involve volunteers during the Covid-19 pandemic. These changes reflected step 3 of the government’s roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions across England.
The updated guidance recommends that people should continue to volunteer from home where this is possible but acknowledges that it is now possible for volunteers to help outside of their home if they do not need to self-isolate. In line with wider guidance to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable volunteering outside of the home is permitted but individuals are advised to take extra steps to keep themselves safe when doing so, including minimising social interaction and the time they spend in places where they cannot maintain social distancing.
The full guidance is available on the DCMS website, here, but we set out below the main highlights of the guidance for charities and volunteer organisations:
- where groups are organised on a formal basis to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support, those groups can now continue with up to 30 participants (increased from 15), where children under five accompanying a parent or guardian do not count to that limit. This rule on children under five also applies to anyone working or volunteering;
- as per step three of the roadmap, holiday accommodation is now permitted to reopen and the guidance on the use of this accommodation for those who need to stay for volunteering purposes has been deleted;
- certain businesses and venues must remain closed and there are still restrictions on specific activities which may involve volunteers. However:
- volunteering which cannot be done from home can continue in a closed business or venue while it remains closed to the public; and
- closed businesses or venues can be used, including by volunteers, for a number of specific purposes only (including for the provision of food banks or other support to the homeless or vulnerable);
- in addition:
- if people need to travel to volunteer or while volunteering, they should follow the “safer travel guidance”;
- those wishing to travel into Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland to volunteer must check that nation’s restrictions before doing so; and
- people can leave the UK to volunteer but only where it is not reasonably possible for them to do their role from within the UK;
- while volunteering, people can meet in groups of any size from different households, indoors or outdoors. Indoor venues should allow for social distancing to be maintained and have adequate ventilation. Volunteers can also meet in groups for activities necessary for their volunteering, including recruitment and training (but not as part of a social activity). However, these groups should carefully follow social distancing and Covid-secure guidance and observe the “hands, face, space” key behaviours;
- volunteers should not enter other people’s homes unless absolutely necessary and should follow Covid-secure guidance; and
- employees furloughed through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can, during the hours they are on furlough, volunteer for another employer or organisation, but are not permitted to volunteer for their own employer, or an organisation linked to, or associated, with it. It is important to note that charity partnerships and branches which do not have connected control with an employer are not classed as linked or associated for these purposes and so volunteering across these partnerships is permitted.
In addition to the above, the guidance reminds organisations and groups that they have a duty of care to volunteers to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that volunteers are not exposed to risks to health and safety. More information about insurance cover for volunteers and what type is needed depending on the activities carried out by an organisation are available on the National Council for Voluntary Organisations website.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Michael Crowther or any of the employment team on 0113 244 6100.
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.