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Dave Thomas, NCVS Volunteering Development Officer

Is the person applying for your volunteer role allowed to do so?

Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS writes...

In our enthusiasm to involve new volunteers, we often say that we welcome anybody whose skills, interests and enthusiasm fit with the role that we are seeking to fill. However, there are a number of legal constraints on who we can allow to volunteer. There are also people who may think they are prevented from volunteering who are not.

The largest potential pool of volunteers, UK citizens and people with 'settled status' face no restrictions at all on their volunteering (unless they are affected by one of the restrictions below). Irish citizens can still enter the UK freely and can volunteer while they are here.

Since Brexit, however, almost all European Union (EU) citizens who don’t have 'settled status' or 'pre-settled status' face a new set of rules.

Visitors to the UK

The rules for EU citizens are now the same as those for visitors to the UK from the rest of the world.

The UK government’s website says remarkably little about volunteering for this group of people. However, hidden away in a file of guidance for advisors, I found:


Permitted activities allows visitors to undertake volunteering provided it is for a registered charity and will be for no longer than 30 days in total.

Visitors may not undertake voluntary work, you must be clear on the difference between the two.

This distinction between Volunteers and Voluntary Workers is important. The guidance goes on to say:

Voluntary Workers:

  • Often have a contract with their employer (this means the employer must provide the work and the Voluntary Worker must attend at particular times and carry out specific tasks)
  • Are also usually remunerated in kind


  • Do not have a contract of employment
  • Must not take the place of an employee
  • Must not receive payment in kind but reimbursement for reasonable travel and subsistence expenses is allowed
  • Support a charity or voluntary or public sector organisation, but must not be undertaking work ancillary to the organisation’s charitable purpose including, for example, routine back office administrative roles, retail or other sales roles, fund-raising roles and roles involved in the maintenance of the organisation’s offices and other assets

This last paragraph sets out a restriction on the kinds of volunteering that overseas visitors are allowed to do within their limited 30 hours. Many of our volunteer roles would be seen as “ancillary to the organisation’s charitable purpose”. So administration, charity shop and practical roles are all specifically excluded.

The difference between voluntary work and volunteering also appears in regulations about overseas students volunteering. However, virtually all opportunities that you are likely to create meet the definition of volunteering rather than ‘voluntary work.’

You can read the Home Office's Visit Guidance document in full here. The section referred to in this blog entry can be found on page 28.

Overseas Students

Students from other countries will need to have a visa and it is important that the specific conditions of the visa may affect their right to volunteer.

If their student visa gives the right to work with restrictions, then they will be able to volunteer. However, if there is a limit on the number of hours they can work, any time spent on ‘voluntary work’ will count towards the hours total, whilst any time spent ‘volunteering’ will not.

If the visa does not have the right to work (for example, a student visitor visa) then they will be able to volunteer, but not undertake ‘voluntary work’. It is likely that the conditions for this type of visa will also include the same requirement as the visitor visa of no more than 30 hours of volunteering within a limited range of roles.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Once a refugee has 'settled status', there are no restrictions on volunteering.

Asylum seekers also are able to volunteer freely. Since 2000, it has been Home Office policy that asylum seekers are allowed to volunteer.

Universal Credit and other benefit claimants

You can still volunteer if you’re on Universal Credit (UC) as long as you also undertake any activities, such as job searching, training or other requirements, identified by your Jobcentre Plus adviser.

For some UC claimants, volunteering can count towards up to 50 per cent of the time they are expected to be looking for a job.

People are allowed to volunteer while claiming other benefits, including means-tested benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Incapacity Benefit, Income Support, and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

They can volunteer as many hours as they like while they are receiving benefits, as long as they keep to the rules for getting the benefit. The rules vary depending on the type of benefit the volunteer is receiving.


Individuals are disqualified from being charity trustees if they have unspent convictions for offences of dishonesty or deception (the same goes for attempting, aiding or abetting these offences). How long a conviction remains unspent depends upon the type and length of sentence a person was given after conviction.

Individuals are also automatically disqualified, if they are:

  • Currently declared bankrupt or subject to bankruptcy restrictions or an interim order
  • Subject to a debt relief order, a debt relief restrictions order or interim order
  • Disqualified from being a company director

Disclosure and Barring Service checks

A barred list check can be requested as part of an Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Check, but only if the applicant is eligible. To be eligible, the position the applicant is applying for must involve engaging in regulated activity with children and/or vulnerable adults.

The barred lists allow the DBS to keep a record of people who aren’t permitted to engage in ‘regulated activity’ with children and/or vulnerable adults.


An intern has no legal definition and an intern’s rights depend on their employment status.

Internships are sometimes called work placements or work experience. These terms have no legal status on their own. The rights they have depend on their employment status and whether they’re classed as:

  • A worker
  • A volunteer
  • An employee


Find out more

This is just one of the topics that we cover during our online Introduction to Volunteer and the Law training sessions.

Our next Introduction to Volunteers and the Law training course will take place on Wednesday 18 August 2021, from 10am to 12.15pm, book your place here.

To view all other available training courses for Leaders of Volunteers from NCVS, please visit our Training Courses web page.

Important note:

This information is correct to the best of of our knowledge on 31 March 2021. However, NCVS does not offer this as a definitive explanation of the law. Leaders of Volunteers should make any necessary checks before taking on volunteers who may have restrictions on what they are permitted to do.


Date Posted: 
Wednesday, 28 April, 2021

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