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Is an Individual Really a "Volunteer"?

Is an Individual Really a "Volunteer"?

A “volunteer” in law is in essence someone who does not have an arrangement or relationship that amounts to a contract of employment.

In order to avoid being subject to employment and tax law (and any other adverse legal implications) arising from engaging a volunteer, a charity needs to ensure that the entire relationship between it and the individual engaged is in reality one of volunteering, not one of employment.

Arrangements between the charity and the individual must be non-contractual if the individual is to be a volunteer not an employee. The arrangement that the charity has with the individual must not include any legal obligation for them to do any work. If there is such an obligation, they will in law be an employee not a volunteer. Nor may there be a legal obligation on the charity to pay or confer a benefit on the individual; if there is, they will be an employee not a volunteer.

The individual’s title does not determine whether they are or are not in law a volunteer. They might have an agreement with the charity that is headed “Volunteering Agreement” or similar, but if in substance it amounts to an agreement for employment, they will not be a volunteer. Whether they are in reality a volunteer in any case will depend on all of the circumstances in that case.

Outside the charity/public sector/not for profit sector it is unusual to find genuine volunteers. Although it is fairly common in the commercial sector to find unpaid individuals with the title “intern”, whether they are actually an employee or a volunteer in law will depend on all of the circumstances.

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