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Volunteering and the law

We've compiled a series of questions and answers below that you may find helpful that focus on volunteering and the law.

If you can't find an answer to your question, you can also get in touch with our volunteering team.

Volunteering gym trainer talking to jogger
  • 1. Does the Equality Act apply to volunteers?

    Although volunteers aren’t protected from discrimination under the employment provisions of the Equality Act 2010 (as volunteers aren’t employees), you might be able to claim that, by offering opportunities for volunteering, an organisation is providing a service and consequently you’re protected from discrimination.

    For more information, visit the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ website.

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  • 2. What is the difference between employees and volunteers?

    Volunteers don’t have the same rights as employees as they’re not paid for their work. They should therefore not have a contract of employment. You might be given a volunteering agreement, but this is not the same as an employment contract.

    The main differences between an employee and a volunteer are:

    • A volunteer doesn’t get paid for their work. As a volunteer, you’re not allowed to receive any payment, benefit in kind or other reward for your work. If they’re being paid, they might be legally classed as an employee. This also counts for training that is not related to their volunteering role at your club. A volunteer may get expenses reimbursed, but these should only be out-of-pocket expenses and not a pre-estimate of expenses
    • A volunteer doesn’t have any obligations to the club – the voluntary work they do is of their own free will
    • A volunteer agreement shouldn’t have any language that suggests employment. It should therefore not be called a contract but an agreement, and it should use words like ‘role’ rather than ‘job description’ and list ‘expectations’ rather than ‘duties’ or ‘obligations’.

    For more information on the difference between employees and volunteers, click on the links below.

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  • 3. Do we need to provide insurance cover for volunteers?

    Yes. As a minimum you’ll need employer’s liability and/or public liability insurance.

    Both the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Volunteer Scotland offer detailed guidance on insurance for volunteers.

    As well as volunteers, sports clubs need to consider staff, participants and the general public in their insurance requirements. Consequently, you’ll need to consider all these groups together when choosing the type of insurance that’s right for your club. For more information on risk insurance, visit Club Matters.

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  • 4. What information should we hold on volunteers? How should it be stored and protected?

    As a club, you may find you need to store a range of information about volunteers. For example, this might include volunteers’ contact details and personal information, their bank details, information on any health conditions they have, and notes from any meetings and supervision sessions you’ve had with them.

    As with any personal data held by an organisation, the Data Protection Act applies to data stored on volunteers. The Act covers the processing, use, accuracy, relevance and protection of such data and how long it can reasonably be stored. We recommend looking at the guidance provided by the Information Commissioner’s Office for more information.

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  • 5. Do we need to pay our volunteers expenses?

    Legally you don’t need to pay volunteer expenses, but it’s good practice to do so. While volunteering isn’t paid, it shouldn’t cost someone money to help your club or group.

    Volunteer expenses may include things such as travel, food, drinks and equipment. You should only pay volunteers out-of-pocket expenses. Make it very clear from the outset what your expenses policy is before someone agrees to start volunteering with you.

    If you make any other payments, there’s a risk your volunteers may be deemed to be employees, which will give them additional rights and may have legal repercussions for your club. You can learn more about this by clicking here.

    Learn more about volunteer expenses with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

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