Furloughed charity workers should be allowed to volunteer for their own organisations, chancellor Rishi Sunak has been told.
In a letter to the chancellor, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tyler of Enfield said the move would support charities offering essential front-line services while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing.
Under the current rules of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, furloughed staff are able to volunteer with other charities, but not their own.
In the letter, which has been signed by 13 other peers, Baroness Tyler warns that this situation risks causing “irreparable damage” to the charity sector.
Baroness Barran, the UK Government’s minister for civil society, ruled out a similar proposal in late April, saying that it would open the door to fraudulent claims and employee exploitation.
However, Baroness Tyler says these risks are “inherently remote” in the third sector, and has suggested a number of criteria to prevent fraud and ensure staff were not being forced to volunteer. These would include charities having to top salaries up to 100% and only being allowed to ask critical staff members to volunteer.
In the letter, she states: “We strongly believe charities must not be discouraged from delivering critical front-line services at a time where demand has soared, income has disappeared and they face a very uncertain future.
“To do so risks not only temporary interruption to charitable activities when needed most, but also irreparable damage to the sector which will have profound and lasting impact for years to come.”
The proposals are being supported by STEM education charity First UK. Their chief executive, Ed Cervantes-Watson, said: “Making an exception to allow furloughed employees of registered charities to volunteer for their organisations is not ‘gaming the system’; it is protecting the very social fabric of our country.”
The UK Government’s digital, culture, media and sport select committee has also recommended allowing furloughed charity staff to volunteer with their employers while the crisis is ongoing.