Frequently Asked Questions or 'FAQs':
How long will I have to commit for?
As a volunteer you are free to leave whenever you like. If things don't work out or your circumstances change it's good to talk it through with the person in charge and give them some notice if possible.
What skills will I need?
That will depend on the opportunity. Many do not require any particular skills, while others might make use of specific training, for example in accountancy or word processing.
Will I gain a qualification?
When you start any sort of voluntary work, find out whether there are any training courses on offer, whether given by the organisation itself or those which you can pick up at your local college. Some charities may offer you the chance to do an NVQ if you want to do one.
Can you volunteer if you have a Criminal Record?
Yes! Although it may limit the type of volunteering you are able to do. It is likely you will have to have a Disclosure & Barring Service check (DBS) if you are working with children, young people or vulnerable people. In such instances it is likely that the role will be exempt from the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 which means that all previous convictions, however minor or long ago must be disclosed. If you are concerned about this, then discuss it with your Volunteer Centre or Support Worker.
Will I need references?
Yes, you probably will. This is especially relevant if you are working with vulnerable client groups, such as children or older people. Certain roles in volunteering require that a disclosure is sought from the National Criminal Records Bureau, whether you have a criminal record or not. If this is necessary, the Volunteer Co-ordinator will explain the procedure to you.
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 Vocational Advisor, an ex-teacher or another type of professional person for a reference. Often, organisations will be happy to accept a reference from a friend, landlord or colleague. If you are not sure about what they will accept then speak to them about it and go from there.
I am on benefits; can I still do voluntary work?
Yes. Jobcentre Plus recognises that volunteering can improve your prospects of finding paid employment. You are free to volunteer while you are receiving benefits as long as the work you do is unpaid, and you meet the rules of your benefit. Always check with your benefits adviser before you start volunteering.
You can get more information from Volunteering while on benefits on the DirectGov web site.
There is also a leaflet produced by the Job Centre to help - ‘Volunteering while getting benefits’ DWP1023 | v2.1 (February 2010).
I have some mental health difficulties. Can I do voluntary work?
Yes, it is perfectly okay for you to volunteer. In fact, many people use volunteering as an aid to their recovery and as a stepping stone to finding the right paid job, particularly if they have been unable to work for a while. If you are feeling nervous you can arrange for someone to come with you when attending interviews etc.
Do I have to disclose my mental health issues?
It’s up to you whether you want to disclose any mental health problems you may have. However, by telling the organisation it gives them the opportunity to look at ways for them to support you to carry out your role more confidently and safely. Disclosing is also a great way to help raise the organisation’s awareness and understanding of how to involve people with a mental health problem as volunteers.