The Road Ahead

Our analysis of the major opportunities and challenges facing the voluntary sector in 2024. Learn more

Volunteers from overseas

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Volunteers from the EU

The UK is no longer a member of the European Union. But EU nationals can still volunteer in the UK if:

  • they have settled or pre-settled status
  • they have a visa that allows them to volunteer
  • they're volunteering with an EU-funded programme like Erasmus + or the European Solidarity Corps.

Volunteering and voluntary work

Sometimes people from overseas can volunteer but can't do voluntary work. It’s important you are clear on the difference.

This is how the Home Office explains it.

  • Volunteers don't have a contract, must not be a substitute for an employee and must not be doing unpaid work. They must not get payment in kind but are sometimes paid for reasonable expenses. They usually help a charity or voluntary or public sector organisation.
  • Voluntary workers usually have obligations to do their work. The law may find these to be 'contractual' even if there isn't a written contract. For example, the voluntary worker might have to do their role at set times or carry out set tasks. Voluntary workers are sometimes paid in kind. For example, they could get free training, products or services from the organisation.

In practice, the main difference is whether the person feels they have to commit their time. Volunteers don’t have to commit their time and shouldn't feel like they do.

For voluntary workers it can be different. They might have set hours, or a lot of responsibility for a service. This could make them feel like they have to commit their time even if they don't have a written contract.

Learn more from our guidance on volunteers and the law, which includes information on how to avoid creating an employment contract with volunteers.

Right to work checks

If a person is a volunteer and not a voluntary worker, you don’t need to check their right to work in the UK.

If there is any way it could look like the volunteer has a contract, you should check their right to work in the UK.

There are serious penalties for employing people who don’t have the right to work in the UK. You should take a careful approach to checking this for voluntary workers.

Visas and volunteering

Some visas allow a person to volunteer, but others don't.

Volunteers should ask UK Visas and Immigration if their visa allows volunteering. They have an online tool to check if you need a UK visa.

Refugees and asylum seekers

People who have refugee status or humanitarian protection can do any type of work. This includes voluntary work and volunteering.

People who've applied for refugee status or humanitarian protection (asylum seekers) are often not allowed to work. But they can volunteer in both the public or voluntary sectors. This includes when they are appealing against a decision to refuse them asylum.

Learn more about volunteering for asylum seekers.

Last reviewed: 12 April 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 12 April 2021

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