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.

Applies to England

This guidance is for people who run volunteer-involving organisations or groups, or manage volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering yourself, or are already volunteering, read guidance on how to volunteer during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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

Omicron variant: changes to restrictions

New measures have been put in place as a precaution, because cases of a variant of concern have been found in the UK. There are changes to the rules in England on self-isolation, testing after international travel, and face coverings. From 4am on Tuesday 30 November, customers and staff are legally required to wear face coverings indoors in shops and on public transport services.

This guidance will be updated shortly to include more information on these changes.

COVID-19 will be a feature of our lives for the foreseeable future, so we need to learn to live with it and manage the risk to ourselves and others.

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, organisations and groups need to make judgements to manage the risks of coronavirus. While no situation is risk free, there are actions that can be taken to limit transmission of the virus.

Who can volunteer

Anyone can volunteer during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since Step 4 we have seen a gradual return to offices and workplaces. As workers and volunteers return, you should continue to discuss these arrangements with them to ensure they meet both organisational and individual needs. To help workers and volunteers feel safe to return, you should continue to consult them on any measures you have put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading.

However, people should not leave home to volunteer if:

  • they have COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test
  • are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace

The rules on self-isolation have changed. If a volunteer is fully vaccinated or under 18 and 6 months they’re not required to self-isolate if they’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19. Organisations and volunteers can find more information about self-isolation in the guidance for:

Following expert clinical advice and the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine programme, people previously considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) will not be advised to shield again. People who were previously identified as CEV are advised to continue to follow the guidance contained in Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread. Individuals should consider advice from their health professional on whether additional precautions are right for them.

Business and venues

Organisations and groups have a duty to manage risks to those affected by their business or venue(s). This means carrying out a health and safety risk assessment, including the risks relating to COVID-19, and taking reasonable steps to mitigate the risks identified. Working safely guidance sets out a range of mitigations organisations and groups should consider, including:

  • cleaning surfaces that people touch regularly
  • identifying poorly-ventilated areas in the venue and taking steps to improve air flow
  • ensuring that volunteers who are unwell do not attend the workplace
  • communicating to volunteers the measures you have put in place

Contact tracing records

Organisations are encouraged to continue displaying QR codes for customers wishing to check in using the NHS COVID-19 app. However, this is no longer a legal requirement.

To support NHS Test and Trace, organisations and groups should keep a record of all volunteers who come onto their premises, including their shift times on a given day and their contact details.

Travelling to volunteer or while volunteering

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 should check:

Ensuring volunteers and their workplaces are safe

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

Organisations and groups should assess the risks around volunteering roles and activities and take steps to keep volunteers safe. Your organisation or group should:

Organisations and groups may want to encourage volunteers to:

  • take regular rapid lateral flow tests, even if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms
  • get vaccinated
  • wash their hands regularly and for 20 seconds
  • make sure indoor spaces are well ventilated with fresh air, or meet outdoors where possible
  • consider wearing a face covering in enclosed and crowded settings where they come into contact with people they do not normally meet
  • be aware that not everyone will want close contact with others
  • minimise the number of contacts they have with people from outside of their household

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

There is also guidance on other settings which may be relevant, such as the safe use of places of worship and public outdoor settings. The Health and Safety Executive has published guidance on managing risk for voluntary organisations.

You can find further guidance that has been prepared in line with guidance published by the government, such as:

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.

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

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.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (‘furlough’) has now closed.

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 30 November 2021 + show all updates
  1. Information box added on new measures (face coverings, self-isolation and testing after international travel) because of the Omicron variant. Face coverings are legally required indoors in shops, personal care services and public transport in England, from 4am Tuesday 30 November. Further information on these measures will be added shortly.

  2. Updated to reflect that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) has now closed.

  3. Updated line on returning to workplaces and removed references to groups who were previously identified as 'clinically extremely vulnerable', as the shielding programme has now ended.

  4. Updated external guidance links.

  5. Updated information about self-isolation which applies from 16 August

  6. Updated to reflect roadmap Step 4.

  7. Added lines on out-of-school settings and capacity numbers.

  8. Updated to reflect latest restrictions.

  9. Updated to reflect Step 3 position.

  10. Updated to reflect 29 March roadmap change.

  11. Updated to include Roadmap links

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

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

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

  15. Updated to reflect new tier system

  16. First published.