Volunteering and furloughing: What do we know?

For our latest guidance on volunteering and covid-19, please visit our coronavirus pages on NCVO Knowhow.

With many organisations taking decisions about whether to furlough their staff, we set out below what this means for those who may wish to volunteer. We also consider what the furloughing rules mean for charities wishing to take on new volunteers who have time to give due to being on furlough leave.

Furloughing and the job retention scheme

With so many UK organisations temporarily unable to go about their business, furloughing staff is one of the options open to employers other than making people redundant.

The UK government has set up a job retention scheme offering grants to cover 80% of a furloughed employee’s salary up to £2,500, plus the employer’s national insurance contributions and minimum auto-enrolment pension contributions. This webinar (available on demand by registering) has further information on how the job retention scheme works.

HMRC has produced guidance on furloughing and the job retention scheme. As a new scheme, this guidance is being updated as new considerations come to light, but this blog sets out our understanding of the guidance so far and what it means for volunteering.

People can volunteer, but with some restrictions

Furloughing is an ‘all or nothing’ decision. Furloughed employees cannot do any work for their organisation. While on furlough, employees must not provide services or make money for (or on behalf of) their employer. That includes volunteering.

The reasons are clear: furloughed staff members coming back to ‘volunteer’ in their same role while the organisation claims a government grant is not in the spirit of the scheme. There is a risk the scheme could be abused by employers and staff could be put under pressure to ‘volunteer’. Breaching the guidance could invalidate the organisation’s claim for grants under the scheme.

We are aware many charities have central office staff who already volunteer in charity branches and front-line roles – roles that are very different to their day job. As things stand, these people would be prevented from taking on or continuing with these volunteering roles. There are ongoing discussions with HMRC about whether there could be greater flexibility in the rules. But for now, a furloughed employee can’t volunteer for their organisation, even if it’s in a different role. We will update if this situation changes.

Helping furloughed staff to volunteer

Furloughed staff do have the option to volunteer for a different organisation. Updated HMRC guidance makes it clear that ‘your organisation can agree to find furloughed employees new work or volunteering opportunities whilst on furlough’.

Given the large rise in demand for the support that charities can provide, some charities may be able to continue or expand their services through engaging new volunteers who may have more time to contribute in the short term. As usual, we’d suggest sticking to volunteer management good practice when doing this. Here are some thoughts to help:

1. Wellbeing first

This is a tough time for everyone. Coronavirus presents a real risk to individuals, friends and family. Our usual routines no longer apply. Staying home can make life much tougher for some. So when suggesting volunteering roles, be mindful that it’s not right for everyone and we have a responsibility to look out for the wellbeing of all potential helpers.

2. Keep it voluntary

Volunteering needs to be voluntary. As soon as obligation creeps in, the voluntary nature of volunteering is lost. Voluntary roles should be distinct from paid roles, including paid roles where the post holder is now on furlough leave. Using a volunteer to backfill staff on furlough could make you liable for paying a person in that role and have a negative impact on your existing staff team.

3. Roles that are fit for furlough

Not all roles will be right for people who’ve been furloughed from other organisations. Think about how you will integrate these people with your existing volunteer team. Remember they may be recalled back to their organisation with very little notice.

4. Give options, not obligations

The updated guidance does give scope for helping furloughed staff to volunteer if that’s what they want. Encourage people to check out our volunteering and coronavirus page or to do their own research.

Remember, people shouldn’t volunteer with organisations they have been furloughed from, and that includes staff self-organising to support your charity. While loyalty is great, this could jeopardise your job retention scheme grant.

5. Supporting people into volunteering

We know volunteering is good for wellbeing and makes a huge difference to communities across the UK. Helping staff members who want to volunteer is a responsible thing to do. This can range from setting up fast-track volunteering with a charity partner to simply providing a reference to help speed up someone’s recruitment.

Monitoring the situation

This is a new scheme. It could come to an end quickly or be changed with little notice. Do keep an eye on the government guidance on furlough and the job retention scheme. Finally, keep communicating with both your staff and volunteers about what any changes might mean for their roles and for your organisation.


NCVO and our partners are working closely with government in order to influence the development of guidance relating to volunteering and voluntary organisations. We will continue to update you on our coronavirus pages.

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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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