Is insurance the right way to protect volunteers?


David Tyler worked at Community Matters as chief executive for 13 years before becoming the chair of the Insurance Working Group established by Lord Hodgson and ABI Director General, Otto Thoreson to tackle insurance concerns within the sector. He now works as a freelance voluntary sector advisor. The post was commissioned as part of Volunteers’ Week 2014.

“Only having a small number of people actively running the club, it is a constant worry that we have missed something and therefore leave us exposed as Trustees to being sued and not having the time to keep on top of all the legislative paperwork one feels we should be on top of.”

Amateur sports club in a Sports and Recreation Alliance survey

Naturally, volunteers and trustees want to avoid being sued if something goes wrong. Lord Hodgson’s Taskforce report Unshackling Good Neighbours in 2011 wrestled with this anxiety as it sought to reduce the red tape which could be an obstacle to volunteering.

The report proposed a joint working group of the insurance industry and the voluntary sector, and as then CEO of Community Matters and a member of the Hodgson Taskforce, I chaired this group. We tackled fundamental concerns about protecting individuals and organisations in our sector and produced some ground-breaking new guidance on how volunteers are – and aren’t – covered by insurance.

Volunteer drivers

An early win for the group was the publication of The Association of British Insurer’s Volunteer Driving – The Motor Insurance Commitment, which lists insurance companies that don’t charge extra premiums for volunteer driving. The campaign to secure this commitment from the insurance industry had been largely ‘driven’ by Volunteering England (now NCVO) and Lord Hodgson, and the guide, which was published immediately prior to our first meeting set the tone for the group.

Sports and recreation

Perhaps surprisingly, an early call for individual cases from the voluntary sector yielded very little useful data for the group. It became difficult to separate anecdote from hard evidence, but it was clear that physical activities and work with children and young people were attracting some hefty insurance premiums. Through our group the umbrella bodies the Sports and Recreation Alliance and National Council for Voluntary Youth Services were able to forge useful ongoing relationships with the insurance industry and explore options.

Code of practice

One of the first questions raised by the voluntary sector members was whether volunteers really faced enough personal risk to necessitate the individual volunteer insurance policies then coming onto the market. Most volunteers will be working for an organisation that already has insurance to cover their actions and they may only need to satisfy themselves this cover is adequate. Therefore, individual volunteer policies are targeted more at unilateral voluntary action, such as good deeds for friends and neighbours or providing peer support on a mutual exchange basis. Yet we discovered that many home insurance policies already cover such activity, and a key recommendation from our group is that volunteers should check these policies first; they may also want to explore the limits of this cover with their insurer. Recognising the anxieties felt by some volunteers, the group produced the Volunteer Code of Good Practice to give simple guidance for lone volunteers.

Trustee liabilities

Trustees, however, often felt they faced different and more serious risks, especially the fear of missing something critical. These ‘unknown unknowns’ were a strong catalyst for me in drafting with Sarah Payne of BWB another of the group’s key outputs, the Trustee Liability Guide (PDF, 690KB), now published as part of Volunteers’ Week. The guide presents a simple tabular format to the legal liabilities involved in being a trustee or management committee member of an organisation (no matter how informal). Alongside this, it lists whether each can be relieved by either insurance or company incorporation and finally what preventative actions trustees can themselves take to limit the risk.

Readers may well be struck by the number of liabilities for trustees that are not covered by insurance or incorporation, and I hope the guide will inform and suggest other ways of avoiding such pitfalls, while pointing out that for the average trustee, the chances of accidentally falling into them are extremely low.

Specialist products

The final publication of our group was drafted by insurance industry colleagues after it became clear that voluntary organisations often assumed that their public liability, employers’ liability and professional indemnity policies would cover them for pretty much anything they did. The guide to insurance products (PDF, 200KB) prompts organisations into considering all their activities in a bit more depth and to then question their insurer about whether they might need any specialist products to supplement their existing insurance. It’s a long list of products and some are fairly esoteric but then our sector is enormously diverse.

Our intention with these publications was to give volunteers and trustees the hard information on the risks they face, unsentimentally, even bluntly, but at the same time to tell them that the personal risks are very small and that there are things they can do to avoid them. Time will tell as to whether the majority of volunteers are reassured by these guides, but if they are not, they will at least have material on which to build a new case to Government for codifying how volunteers could be better protected.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank NCVO and the Association of British Insurers for hosting and providing secretariat to the group and Sarah Payne of Baites Wells and Braithwaite, whose guidance was essential to the group’s success.

More questions?

CaSE Insurance is an NCVO trusted supplier and provides specialist insurance to charities and social enterprises.

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