Can furloughed workers act as volunteers

We’ve had a few enquiries on this subject and have generally advised a common sense approach.

A group of 60 charity leaders last week called on the government to grant voluntary sector staff an exemption to this rule because many charities face having to furlough staff at a time when demand for their services is soaring. 

It’s true that charities could take advantage of the scheme. However many charities have seen demand for their services climb through the roof; at the same time seeing their income sinking.

This is the detail of the government’s response and the thinking behind it.

The Minister for Civil Society has poured cold water on the idea that furloughed charity workers might be able to volunteer for their own organisations.  Baroness Barran was speaking in an online House of Lords session yesterday about the challenges facing the voluntary sector because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The 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.

But Barran 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 per cent of their wages.”

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme enables employers to claim for 80 per cent of the wages of those who would otherwise have to be made redundant, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. 

Furloughed workers are allowed to volunteer but not for their own organisations. 

Barran said many charities had already taken advantage of the scheme. 

“My quick review this morning showed that from just a very short list of charities those savings will amount to over £125m in the next few months,” she said.

Responding to the many peers that pointed out that the £750m funding package put together to support the voluntary sector fell way short of the more than £4bn the sector is estimated to miss out on over the next three months, Barran said the funding was unprecedented in scale and “goes beyond the funding that the government has made available to other sectors”. 

But she also repeated what Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, had said last week about the government not being able to save every charity. 

“We will not be able to save every business or every charity, but we will continue to engage proactively with organisations across the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors, so that we maintain a complete picture of the impact of coronavirus on the organisations and, of course, the people they serve,” she said. 

The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Barker said several peers had been excluded from speaking during the debate and the time permitted for it was “inadequate to cover the complexity and the details for the subject”. She called on the government to set aside time for a “proper debate”. 

Barran responded by saying that the limit on the number of speakers was to do with the limits of technology. “The government would have been delighted to include as many noble lords as wished to contribute to this debate,” she said.

If you have staff on furlough that have been creeping back in as volunteers we suggest you carry out a review and see what other options are available. Your staff can volunteer for other organisations; it’s possible that with a little creativity some kind of exchange system could be worked out with other local organisations.

Daryl Martin

1st May 2020

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