Brexit: What does it mean for volunteering?

Brexit: What does it mean for volunteering?

I ask myself this particular question a lot. But with Brexit, the answers seem more difficult to pin down. While parliament has passed legislation intended to rule out a ‘no-deal’ on 31 October, there are still several possible things that could happen. NCVO has already voiced its concerns over the danger of a no-deal Brexit, and no-deal is still possible if the EU decline an extension.

Either way, preparation is key. A couple of weeks ago, NCVO published its no-deal Brexit and the voluntary sector guide. To help, I’ve pulled together information relevant to volunteer-involving organisations.

Can EU volunteers carry on volunteering in the UK?

Yes, if they have either:

  • Settled or pre-settled status
  • European Temporary Leave to Remain
  • A visa which doesn’t prevent them from volunteering

Government announcements keep coming on what arrangements may be in place should there be a deal or not. Chetal Patel from Bates Wells’ immigration team advises organisations to stay aware of the moving goalposts and update their people plans accordingly. She tells us that as there’s a backlog in those applying to the EU settlement scheme, those wishing to apply for settled status should do so sooner rather than later. If volunteers are hoping to apply for settled status, arrangements should be made so that EU citizens and their family members enter the UK by 31 October 2019. The deadline for applying to this scheme is currently 31 December 2020 in a no-deal scenario

For those arriving after 31 October 2019, check out the latest government policy announcement on no deal immigration arrangements for EU citizens arriving after Brexit. This allows EU citizens to apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain, or ‘Euro TLR’, until 31 December 2020. This three-year agreement permits EU citizens and their family members to live, study, work and access benefits and services as they do now – including volunteering. Bates Wells explain the key points here.

Should the UK leave the EU without a deal and EU citizens do not have settled, pre-settled or Euro TLR status, those citizens right to reside in the UK will be based on their visa (see below). If a volunteer doesn’t have a visa, they may not be able to stay in the UK. Organisations should also be aware that under the Immigration Act 2016, it is a criminal offence to involve these people as  voluntary workers (a type of volunteering where there is a contract mutual obligation but no pay). If there is any possibility that the volunteer could be deemed to be working under a contract, even if they receive no pay, then you should check those volunteers have a right to work in the UK.

Are UK volunteering numbers going to go down?

There are no national figures on EU nationals volunteering in the UK. Although the 2019 Civil Society Almanac tells us that EU nationals make up 4% of voluntary sector paid staff, the numbers are especially high in social and residential care. Research from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggests that  current Tier 2 rules for non-EU nationals which will apply to EU nationals under current proposals will mean over 80% of EU nationals currently working in charities would be ineligible to work in the UK.

Will those figures apply to volunteering? Not directly. However, if EU nationals are no longer able to bring certain skills (for example, social and residential care), those skills might be more difficult to come by. This could be due to a lack of EU nationals volunteering those skills, or UK nationals recruited in paid role and less likely to volunteer. If you’re concerned, it is worth sensitively asking your existing volunteers if they are likely to be affected by changes to immigration rules.

What will UK organisations need to do in the future?

Those with EU settled status will continue to be able to volunteer. However, there is no longer term plan for citizens who have Euro TLR. After leaving, the UK may strike The rules on people from overseas volunteering in the UK are complex and sometimes contradictory. NCVO has some specific guidance on eligibility to volunteer under particular visas which we are making free to all for the coming months.

The one to watch is the tier 5 (temporary worker): unpaid charity worker visa, specifically used in volunteering contexts. NCVO has received anecdotal concerns about the inconsistent approach currently being applied to tier 5 visas. BWB also recently reported retroactive changes made to tier 2 and 5 sponsors guidance by the Home Office. While we would expect to see immigration rules being reviewed right now, we would suggest caution before relying on tier 5 visas as a futureproof way of involving overseas volunteers.

Can UK citizens still volunteer in the EU?

UK citizens are currently eligible to take part in several schemes through the European Voluntary Service. These include:

While the long-term UK membership of these schemes is still unknown, the UK government has guaranteed to cover the cost of funding from these schemes which has already been secured.

Outside of these schemes, without a collective agreement in place, this will largely come down to the view of the authorities of that specific nation. A good place to start when checking this would be the UK-based embassy of that nation.

What should I do next?

  • Remember this may be an emotional and personally difficult time for many of the people in your organisation.
  • Identify whether you are at risk of skills shortages and evaluate the cost of retraining new staff to replace or fill staffing gaps.
  • Make sure volunteers and staff are aware of their settlement scheme and temporary leave to remain options, however be mindful of legal limitations – you may not assist in the actual application process
  • If there is any possibility that the volunteer could be deemed to be working under a contract, then you should check those volunteers have a right to work in the UK, even if they receive no pay
  • Establish whether you receive or have benefitted from EU funding directly or through partnerships
  • Ensure your processes for managing and transferring data take into account all possible outcomes
  • The government has confirmed that civil society organisations are eligible to bid for a grant to help organisations prepare for Brexit. You can apply here.
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Avatar photo Shaun is volunteering development manager at NCVO, overseeing strategy for volunteer management and good practice. Previously, he was head of volunteering at Samaritans and is currently a volunteer trustee of Greater London Volunteering.

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