Employing voluntary staff
What volunteers are entitled to
Individuals who are genuinely volunteers have no employment rights but may still be able to claim state benefits and/or allowances.
There have been cases where volunteers have succeeded in claiming to be a worker or even an employee. It is important to be aware of this because workers benefit from certain statutory employment rights, eg the right to receive the national minimum wage, while employees benefit from the full range of such rights including unlawful discrimination.
Therefore, when you take on a volunteer, any agreement you have with them must be worded so that the volunteer is clear that it is not a contract of employment, eg the agreement must not suggest that you and the volunteer have any obligations towards each other or that it is a contract for services.
Instead you should:
- Give the individual a volunteer agreement and role description in writing.
- Not promise anything in return for the volunteer's work.
However, as part of the agreement, you may:
- Give a volunteer relevant training.
- Give relevant supervision.
- Reimburse actual expenses a volunteer incurs when volunteering, eg travel. Be careful though, as meal vouchers, for example, count as payment in kind for the purposes of jobseeker's allowance.
Note that you should never give a volunteer a gift or reward other than in an isolated case.
Volunteers and the national minimum wage (NMW)
For the purposes of the NMW legislation, volunteers are not workers and are therefore not entitled to be paid the NMW.
However, you must ensure that the individual is genuinely a volunteer, ie that it's not possible for them to claim they are - in fact - a worker.
Voluntary workers are a category of worker specifically exempt for being entitled to the NMW.
For more information on volunteers, voluntary workers and the NMW, see National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage - volunteers and voluntary workers.
State benefits and allowances available to volunteers
Volunteers may continue to be eligible for benefits and allowances such as jobseeker's allowance or disability living allowance. See volunteering while on benefits.
Those receiving Jobseeker's Allowance will need to attend meetings at their Jobs and Benefits office, and your organisation will need to accommodate these visits.
You have no duty to inform the benefits office who is volunteering - this is for the individual volunteer to decide.
Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action028 9087 7777