Anyone can volunteer
Employees, Freelancers and Contractors too. All types of organisations in (and outside of) the UK regularly need volunteers, and you can provide much-needed specialised skills.
You may be short-on time and/or short-on income and not at all inclined to provide your help for free. However, there are many positive benefits - you may be able to provide help to organisations that focus on issues you feel strongly about, and/or help your community; and by volunteering you will provide professional input to the organisation and may gain new contacts for future paid work, gain new skills and also produce useful showcase examples of your work.
You can give as much of your time as you wish (‘micro-volunteering’ is now a thing!), often work online/at home, and often need to make no long-term commitment.
Examples of volunteering opportunities beyond the ‘traditional’ (e.g. helping at a charity shop or in the community; volunteering on a charitable project abroad) include:
- Online digital and design work
- Branding and marketing work
- Mentoring less experienced professionals (a good example in the TV and Film industry is mentoring for Screenskills (the skills body for the screen industries) who say: The development of screen professionals is vital to the ongoing success and global reputation of the industry in the UK. Becoming a mentor can help improve performance, skills and knowledge.
- Board Member for a Housing Association
- Public Relations Volunteer
- International Fundraiser
- Art Gallery volunteer
You can find jobs and more information about volunteering here:
However, so you don’t confuse your tax position with the HMRC, you need to know what a volunteer is and that there’s a difference between a Volunteer and a Voluntary Worker. In the confusing world of employment law they both have definitions, so we’ll explain them here!
In UK employment law there are three main ways of being employed in paid work as an individual – as a worker, an employee and a freelancer (as a self-employed/sole trader/contractor).
However, there are also two unpaid categories – Volunteer and Voluntary Worker.
We need to start by defining what a ‘worker’ is as this is key to the legal definition of a Volunteer and a Voluntary Worker.
If you have a contract of employment (a contract of service) then you’re a ‘worker’ (which includes an Employee). You can also be a Worker if you don’t actually have a contract but you:
- Work personally for someone else and are not genuinely self-employed
- You’re obliged to do this work and your Employer is obliged to give you the work
- You’re rewarded for the work by money or benefits.
A Volunteer, however, won’t have any form of contract of employment or contract to perform work or provide services (you may receive a letter setting out some details of the tasks you may perform and guidelines). Volunteers:
- are under no obligation to perform work or carry out an Employers’ instructions and can come and go as they please.
- have no expectation of (and don’t receive) any reward (pay, benefits) for the volunteering they do.
- can receive reasonable expenses if they incur costs in the course of their volunteering.
- Are therefore not workers and aren’t entitled to any workers rights.
- can offer to provide their services free, to any Employer (not just organisations in the voluntary/charity sector).
- must be genuine volunteers though and not just called a ‘Volunteer’ to remove the need for the NMW to be paid.
However, Voluntary Workers are different – and it is a term used in the National Minimum Wage Act which allows Voluntary Workers to be a class of ‘Worker’ but who are exempt from having to receive the NMW.
This exemption is provided to allow people who genuinely wish to work for good causes, without profit/pay, to continue to be able to do so without qualifying for the NMW. This exemption only applies to Volunteers/Voluntary Workers who work for Employers:
- In the Charity/Voluntary sector
- In associated fundraising bodies e.g. a charity shop
- In statutory bodies that are set up by an Act of Parliament to carry out certain functions, e.g. local authorities, many schools and hospitals, organisations like English Heritage.
This exemption also only applies if, as well, the Voluntary Worker doesn’t:
- Receive any payments, except reimbursement of expenses (although the organisation does not have an obligation to reimburse expenses)
- Receive any benefits, except for the provision of reasonable subsistence (e.g. food, drink) and accommodation necessary for their duties.
Other things to consider:
- Employees may need to (or want to) tell their Employer about their volunteering activities – check your contract of employment.
- Freelancers/Contracts should check with their Accountant or HMRC if they need to declare any expenses received from volunteering.
- For both groups, it is likely that any expenses received that are more than actual expenses accrued may be regarded as taxable income by the HMRC.
Keep these distinctions in mind and have fun volunteering, and find out more about working with charities, including the tax relief available for donations received.
If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issue then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for creative businesses.
Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.