Disclosure Certificates for Volunteers

Do you know the difference between a worker, an employee and a volunteer? The way we’re all working in the UK is changing. Companies such as Uber or Deliveroo have been involved in lengthy battles with HMRC about whether their workers are employed, or self-employed. These rulings have an impact on volunteers too. It’s not longer as easy as it once was to clearly separate the two types of role. Most volunteers and the charities they work for know that volunteers don’t pay for disclosure certificates. But how do you disentangle who is a volunteer and who isn’t?

What constitutes a volunteer?

Companies or charities using volunteers should be aware that it’s a combination of factors which make someone a volunteer, or not. Payment is the most obvious factor. The most important factor is that a volunteer does not receive a salary for the work they do. That doesn’t mean though that volunteers receive no payment at all. Volunteers can claim travelling expenses, and organisations using volunteers can provide free lunch, or something like a branded jacket if they’re working outside. However, volunteers must provide expenses for any expenses they incur. Being too generous with expenses can be legally risky as it could be taken as receiving payment for work.

The other main legal requirement is around the type of work which volunteers are doing. This can be thought of as “free will”. Job descriptions aren’t ever part of what a volunteer should be given. Managers can’t talk about consequences for not doing a task, or use words like “duty” or “obligation”. Contracts can’t be used either. Many organisations have a volunteer agreement which sets out expectations and obligations on both parties and this is fine. A good volunteer agreement will set out expenses policy, health and safety rules, data protection and other relevant issues.

Disclosure Certificates for Volunteers

There is no hard and fast rule which says if you volunteer, you need a disclosure check. As with any other type of role, it will depend on the type of work being done. Many voluntary organisations don’t DBS check volunteers at all. For example, you won’t usually need a DBS to work in a charity shop or shake a can outside a supermarket. If however your voluntary role brings you into contact with vulnerable groups, an enhanced check will be required. Charities also usually check up on volunteers working at a senior level, on a management board or in finance.

Most charities are understaffed and overworked. There just simply isn’t the manpower to process a basic DBS application for every volunteer. Furthermore, many volunteers are short term, and might be finished before the paperwork comes back. Ask the organisation which you are thinking of volunteering for about their DBS policy. All good charities should have one, or a safeguarding policy.

The Application Process

There is no separate application process for volunteers to get a disclosure certificate. The form is the same and the checks are the same as for people doing paid employment. The only difference is that there is a tick box on the form to let the DBS know that it is a voluntary position, and that no fee applies. To complicate matters further, not everyone working for a charity as a volunteer gets a free DBS check. Most do, but senior staff will know the process.

The basic application process is fairly straightforward. The first step is to complete the application form. Most people do this online. This is the most important part of applying for a DBS certificate. Get the application right, and everything else falls into place. If you make mistakes on the form, omit information or just misunderstand what you’re being asked, the risk is that the form is rejected outright. Processing time for a disclosure certificate is around 4 weeks. At peak times, it could take longer.

The Disclosure Certificate

The process ends when the certificate arrives in the post. Disclosure certificates are always sent to the applicant, not to the charity or employer. This gives you the chance to check things over before handing it over. It’s unusual to find mistakes on a DBS check, but it happens. If there are errors you have the right to challenge them, but must do this quickly.