Guidance

Enabling safe and effective volunteering during coronavirus (COVID-19)

This guidance aims to help organisations and groups understand how to safely and effectively involve volunteers during the pandemic.

The government has published the COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021 setting out the roadmap out of the current lockdown for England. This explains how restrictions will be eased over time.

This guidance is for people who run volunteer-involving organisations or groups, or manage volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering yourself, or are an existing volunteer, read guidance on how to volunteer during the coronavirus pandemic.

This guidance applies to England. There is different guidance on volunteering in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Voluntary organisations and groups can find further information on how they can safely and effectively support the country during the outbreak.

Who can volunteer

Anyone can volunteer during the coronavirus pandemic. However, people should volunteer from home where possible.

If they cannot do so, they can volunteer outside their home if they don’t need to self-isolate for any reason.

People should follow social distancing guidance while volunteering outside the home, or COVID-secure guidance if in a workplace.

People who are clinically extremely vulnerable (high risk from coronavirus) are advised to take extra steps to keep themselves safe when volunteering outside the home. This includes:

  • minimising their social interactions
  • minimising the time they spend in places where they can’t maintain social distancing

Business and venue closures

The government has ordered certain businesses and venues to close or to stop specific activities. This includes some workplaces and activities which involve volunteers. Your organisation or group must close your business or venue to the public or stop certain activities if required to do so under the government’s orders.

Volunteering which cannot be done from home can continue in a closed business or venue while it remains closed to the public.

Closed businesses or venues are also permitted to be used, including by volunteers, for a number of specific purposes only.

Volunteering in groups and around others

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. This does not include meeting in person as part of a social activity.

Volunteers who meet in groups or with others from outside their household or support bubble should be especially careful to follow social distancing guidance, or COVID-secure guidelines if volunteering in a workplace, and observe the following key behaviours:

  • HANDS - Wash their hands regularly and for 20 seconds.
  • FACE - Wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where they will come into contact with people they do not normally meet.
  • SPACE - Stay 2 metres apart from people they do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings or increasing ventilation indoors).

Support groups that have to be delivered in person can continue with up to 15 participants where formally organised to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support - but they must take place at a premises other than a private home. The limit of 15 does not include children under 5 who are accompanying a parent or guardian or anyone working or volunteering, such as a youth worker or facilitator.

Whilst there is no limit on the number of volunteers at a support group, lower numbers of people involved will reduce the overall number of social interactions and the risk of spreading the virus.

When volunteering in a workplace or where social distancing is difficult, then the workplace must be COVID-secure.

Volunteers should not enter other people’s homes unless it is absolutely necessary. Organisations and groups should ensure their volunteers follow COVID-secure guidelines while they are helping people in their homes.

Your organisation or group should read guidance on how to keep your volunteers and their venue safe.

Political campaigning

The government has published guidance on doorstep political campaigning during the national lockdown in England.

Travelling to volunteer or while volunteering

If people need to travel to volunteer or while volunteering, they should follow the safer travel guidance.

People wishing to travel into another nation in the UK to volunteer need to check the restrictions of that nation before doing so. Read guidance on coronavirus restrictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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. Read guidance on travelling abroad.

Face coverings

People must wear a face covering by law in some public places unless they have a reasonable excuse for not wearing one (for example, if they have an illness, impairment or a disability).

Volunteers in retail, hospitality and leisure settings must also wear a face covering.

Volunteers should also wear a face covering indoors if they will be in:

  • an enclosed public space
  • a place where they cannot stay 1 metre apart from other people
  • a place where they will come into contact with people they do not usually meet

Read guidance on how your organisation can dispose of business waste, including face coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Volunteers eligible for vaccines

Vaccines are currently available to a number of eligible groups. This includes volunteers in frontline health and social care roles. Volunteers who qualify by virtue of age or clinical condition will be prioritised along with their local population. The NHS will be in touch with people to arrange vaccination appointments when they are eligible.

Coronavirus testing for volunteers

Volunteers in essential worker roles who are showing symptoms of coronavirus are prioritised for coronavirus testing.

Anyone who does not have symptoms can get regular rapid lateral flow tests to check for coronavirus.

People who need to leave home to volunteer should be tested twice a week, even if they don’t have symptoms.

Accommodation for volunteers

Holiday accommodation which is otherwise ordered to close is permitted to open for people who need to stay for volunteering purposes.

Ensuring volunteers and their workplaces are safe

Organisations and groups have a duty of care to volunteers to ensure as far as reasonably practicable they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

Your organisation or group should:

  • take steps to ensure your workplace is COVID-secure in line with HSE guidance
  • display a notice in your workplace to show you have followed the necessary steps in ensuring it is COVID-secure.

Organisations and groups should assess the risks around volunteering roles and activities and take steps to keep volunteers safe. This should include:

  • the physical environment in which the volunteering activity takes place
  • the role’s activities and tasks
  • the individual needs of the person undertaking the role

Organisations and groups should read guidance on working safely during coronavirus. This guidance relates to several areas of work where volunteers are often involved. The guidance sets out that volunteers should be afforded the same level of protection to their health and safety as others, including workers and clients.

You can also read guidance on:

Safeguarding volunteers

Your organisation or group should think carefully about how it safeguards its volunteers and everyone who comes into contact with them. Volunteers should be recognised throughout your organisation or group’s safeguarding policies. Safeguarding should also be considered throughout your policies relating to volunteers.

Read information on how DBS guidelines have changed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Organisations which are employers should read guidance on DBS checks for employers.

You can also read guidance on:

If you run a mutual aid group or community group you can read:

Insurance and volunteers

You should carefully consider which type of insurance cover you need to protect your volunteers and your organisation or group. Read NCVO guidance on insurance and volunteers.

Volunteer drivers who are helping those in need during the pandemic do not need to contact their insurer to update their documents or extend their cover. Read guidance on insurance for volunteer drivers from the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Volunteers who claim benefits or who are ‘furloughed’

People who receive benefits can volunteer while receiving their benefits, as long as they continue to meet all the conditions of the benefit they get. Read guidance on volunteering and claiming benefits.

Employees who are furloughed through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can, during the hours they are on furlough, volunteer for another employer or organisation. During the hours they are on furlough, employees are not permitted to volunteer for their own employer or an organisation linked or associated to their employer, where their volunteering either makes money for, or provides services to, their employer or such an organisation. Charity partnerships and branches which do not have connected control with an employer are not classed as linked or associated, so volunteering is permitted. Read guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Involving volunteers in mutual aid groups and community support groups

If you run a mutual aid or community support group, or are interested in setting one up, you can read:

Local information and resources

Organisations and groups can find local information and resources on involving volunteers by contacting their local Volunteer Centre.

Published 13 November 2020
Last updated 29 March 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated to reflect 29 March roadmap change.

  2. Updated to include Roadmap links

  3. Guidance updated throughout: new sections on 'Political campaigning' and 'Volunteers eligible for vaccines'.

  4. Updated to reflect national restrictions in force in England.

  5. Guidance updated to reflect addition of tier 4 regulations.

  6. Updated to reflect new tier system

  7. First published.