Volunteering and the Law

Volunteering for international students

EU/EEA students face no restrictions on volunteering, and are treated the same as UK students. 

Tier 4 (non- EU/EEA) students can volunteer while they are studying. Volunteering, however, is different to doing voluntary work, as defined by the Home Office. Anyone is allowed to volunteer, however voluntary work is treated the same as paid work, and therefore your visa may restrict how many hours you can work per week, or even if you're permitted to work at all.

Volunteering is when you do not have a contract, and are not a substitute for an employee. You will not be receiving payment in kind for any volunteering you do (although you can be reimbursed for reasonable travel and subsistence expenses). Volunteers usually help a charity or public sector organisation.

Voluntary work is when you have contractual obligations related to your work (e.g. to attend at particular times and carry out specific tasks) and the employer is required to provide work. You may also receive some type of payment in kind (e.g. room and board).

If you're not sure if a position you wish to take up is volunteering or voluntary work, please get in touch with us or the Home Office directly.

For information on your ability to volunteer abroad if you are an international student, please see our international volunteering page.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG)

Volunteer roles, where a volunteer will be in contact with children or supporting ‘vulnerable’ adults require that volunteer to undergo a criminal record disclosure check. They're undertaken to ensure volunteers don't have any impediments or previous convictions that would make them unsuitable for working alongside children or vulnerable adults, or which could put them at risk.

If volunteers do disclose convictions they will likely be given an opportunity to explain the circumstances. Most convictions do not automatically exclude people from volunteering. Further information on Disclosure Services.

Volunteer rights

In the UK, volunteers don’t have a legal status in the same way that paid workers do. Volunteers are not covered by employment law and so do not have formal rights to redress in an Employment Tribunal. That means that volunteers don’t have the right to have an organisation follow proper investigative procedures when things go wrong, or the right to appeal a decision made by the organisation.

You have the right to complain or walk away, but we’d encourage you to complain first to give the organisation the chance to investigate and do their best for their volunteers. Visit Volunteer Scotlands frequently asked questions on volunteering for practical advice and guidance.

Employment Law

As a volunteer, you don’t have a contract of employment, so you don’t have the same rights as an employee or worker. You will however usually be given a volunteer agreement that explains:

  • the level of supervision and support you’ll get
  • what training you’ll get
  • whether you’re covered under the organisation’s employer or public liability insurance
  • health and safety issues
  • any expenses the organisation will cover

This volunteer agreement isn’t compulsory, but sets out what you can expect from the organisation you’re volunteering for and vice versa. It doesn’t form a contract between you and the organisation.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has information on volunteers’ legal status.

Hannah Markley
VP Reps and Volunteers
VP Reps and Volunteers

Hannah is ENSA’s Vice President Reps & Volunteers. If you need any information or advice about anything relating to being a rep, campaigns or volunteering, contact Hannah and she will tell you all you need to know.

Email Hannah

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