If you’re thinking about giving your time as a volunteer you may have a lot of questions. Find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about volunteering below.

Can I volunteer if I claim benefits??

Genuine unpaid volunteering should not affect any state benefits you receive.

If you’re on benefits, it is important that you don’t accept any payments other than having your expenses repaid at the exact cost. For example, if your bus fare is £3.70 you can accept £3.70. It can lead to problems for you and the organisation if your reimbursement is rounded up to £4.00.

You can volunteer for as many hours as you like if you receive benefits, as long you continue to meet the conditions of the benefit you get, including being able to attend a job interview with two days’ notice or starting work within a week.

Volunteering is viewed as helpful in gaining paid employment and is also therapeutic when recovering from an illness or managing a long-term condition. It is always advisable to keep in touch with the Job Centre about your volunteering so that they know you are keeping to the rules and are aware of your situation.

For more information take a look at the official GOV.UK Guidance on Volunteering and claiming benefits 

Can I volunteer if I'm an asylum seeker or refugee?

Volunteering is a great way for refugees and asylum seekers to gain new skills, meet new people and connect with new communities.

In general, most refugees and asylum seekers can volunteer – however, there are certain conditions that guide the types of organisations where asylum seekers can volunteer.

For the latest guidance it is advisable to visit the GOV.UK website 

Can I volunteer in the UK if I'm from overseas?

The answer is maybe. Have a look at this comprehensive information from NCVO to find out more

How much time do I have to give as a volunteer?

There are a range of varied and flexible volunteering opportunities, so you’ll be able to find something that fits into your schedule. You can give as much or as little time as you like.

Some organisations will ask for a large time commitment, such as a couple of days training, and then set hours each week. Other organisations are more flexible and are happy to work around the time you can give.

There are also one-off opportunities that require a day or so of your time.

What can I expect as a volunteer?

As a volunteer, you are giving your time for free, so it’s right that you know what to expect from an organisation in return. In a voluntary role, you can expect:

  • To learn about the organisation and what it does
  • A clear outline of duties – this is usually in the form of a written ‘role description’ or ‘task profile’
  • Training and guidance relevant to your role
  • Appropriate support or supervision
  • To be safe and covered by insurance to carry out the tasks you’ve been given
  • To be made aware of the organisation’s policies and procedures, including who you should talk to if you are unhappy
  • Reasonable out of pocket expenses reimbursed
  • To feel valued by the organisation and able to contribute to its development.

How old do I have to be to volunteer?

There are no age restrictions for volunteering, although for many of the roles we cover, you would need to be at least 18 years of age. However, there are still some organisations that offer volunteering opportunities to people aged 16 and over.

If you are under 16, please contact us and we can have a chat with you about available options. Get in touch with amy.collins@can100.org.uk 

I have a criminal record - can I still volunteer?

A criminal record can sometimes prevent you from volunteering with vulnerable adults or children, but many other volunteering roles will still be open to you. Most organisations will consider the type of offence and sentence, how recent the conviction was, any pattern of offending, and your attitude to the offending now.

It is always best to be honest about your record, especially if you need to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

What if I haven't received a reply to my expression of interest for a role?

Community Action Network is the gateway to hundreds of volunteer roles available across the BCP Area and whilst we host this site in partnership with Volunteer Centre Dorset we do not personally respond to any expressions of interest that you may make towards an opportunity advertised on the site.

The organisation advertising the opportunity is responsible for replying to you. Often in small charities, the volunteer manager works part time so it may take a little longer than you expect to hear back following your application. Please be patient!

 If you don’t hear back for any reason, we are more than happy to contact the organisation on your behalf if you would like us to.

What if you don't have the opportunity I'm looking for?

We have a huge range of different volunteering roles available which you can search through our Volunteering Opportunities portal. There is usually something to suit everyone. However, if what you are looking for is not available, please let us know. We can then look at your skills, experience and availability and try and find something suitable.

Keep in mind, there will be some activities that are not volunteering opportunities, but we will try to find you something as close to what you are looking for, and with similar transferable skills.

Who can volunteer?

Anyone! You can volunteer whatever your age, job status or abilities. Some volunteering opportunities require certain skills or qualifications, but the role description will make this clear.

What skills will I need?

Many volunteering roles are designed to help you gain skills and experience, so you will not need to have those particular skills before you start volunteering. However, there are some roles that require relevant skills, experience or qualifications such as accountancy or counselling.

Many organisations will have a written role description that describes exactly what, if any, experience or skills you should have before starting to volunteer.

Will I get my expenses paid?

Most organisations reimburse out-of-pocket expenses such as travel or refreshments, usually within set limits.

Occasionally, very small organisations that are volunteer-led have no budget to reimburse expenses.

You should discuss any expenses that you feel you need to help you volunteer (such as bus fare to travel to your place of volunteering) with the organisation before committing to a volunteering role.

Will I get paid work or employment from volunteering?

Volunteering will not guarantee getting paid work from an organisation. It can, however, help you in the future by giving you:

  • The opportunity to learn new skills and build confidence
  • Something to put on your CV
  • Referees for job applications
  • An opportunity to try out different types of work, if you are considering a career change.

Will I need a Disclosure and Barring (DBS) check?

This will depend on the volunteer role that you are looking to do. If you are working with children or vulnerable adults, you can expect to be asked to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

This will involve you filling in a form giving your name, current and previous addresses and giving proof of who you are and where you live. It shouldn’t cost you anything.

Will I need references?

Most organisations will require a certain level of background information about you before they take you on as a volunteer. This often means they will ask you for a reference or two. This is especially relevant if you are working with vulnerable client groups, such as children or older people.

If you do not have a previous job or it was too long ago for you to contact them about it, you can ask a support worker, your job coach, a previous volunteer coordinator or another professional person for a reference.

If you don’t have someone who can give you a reference, talk to the organisation about this and they may be able to help you.

ENABLING Volunteering