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No exceptions to furlough rules for charities


The UK government has rejected a plea to allow furloughed charity staff to continue volunteering for the organisations they work for

Furloughed charity workers will not be able to volunteer for their own organisations, the UK government has confirmed.

Baroness Barran, the minister for civil society, said there is no prospect of an exception being made for charities to the rules of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

She was responding to queries from other peers in an online House of Lords session this week

Furloughed workers are allowed to volunteer but not for their own organisations. Last week, a group of charity leaders called on the government to grant voluntary sector staff an exemption to the rule because many charities face having to furlough staff at a time when demand for their services is soaring.

Conservative peer Lord Wei and the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tyler were among those to ask the minister if the rules preventing furloughed employees from volunteering for their charities could be eased.

However Barran responded that no exceptions can be made, as changing the rules could see staff effectively working full-time on a reduced percentage of their wages.

She said: “The purpose of the scheme is to support people who would otherwise have been made redundant.

“In order to prevent fraudulent claims we’ve been clear that individuals can’t work or volunteer for their own organisations.

“But this also protects individuals: if we allowed workers to volunteer for their employers, the employers could effectively ask them to work full time while only paying them 80% of their wages.”

Barran said many charities are already taking advantage of the scheme, and savings made by charities will amount to more than £125 million. The minister did add that the government hopes to be able to set aside time to discuss the issue in more detail.



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Ian Davidson
9 months ago
Rarely for me, I think the UK Govt decision is correct. It is consistent with principles of benefits law (which allow some DWP benefit claimants to undertake unpaid volunteering for charities but not for businesses etc); employment law (where there are umpteen laws governing the relationship between employer and employee) and charities' practice - all charities (should) make a clear statement in their policies on the different legal status of volunteers c.f. employees. Apart from general legal rights such as a safe working environment etc, "volunteers" do not "enjoy" any contractual relationship with their organisation and vice versa. They can leave without notice and they can be "dismissed" without notice or reason (albeit "good practice" to explain). Many charities may eventually choose to employ (perhaps on a sessional basis at first) some volunteers who seek paid employment which may or may not proceed to part time or full time employment with the charity. Indeed this was my experience and I did in fact, at my request, combine a period of employment with volunteering. However, I would not recommend this practice either to individuals or to employing charities as it could create legal confusion and liabilities. Eg: what if a furloughed employee, with a good record, acts as a volunteer but commits a serious error whilst acting as a volunteer which causes the charity to doubt his/her suitability for continued employment? A legal minefield! What if a furloughed employee, as volunteer, wants to take up a vacant position as a volunteer rep on the Board of Management? Employees and volunteers are legally different roles and should be kept separate for the above and many other reasons, including exploitation by the odd rogue charity manager!