Time giving has changed so much over recent years. In addition to the traditional image of volunteering we now have Time Banks, work experience, work placements and internships.

One ever increasing motivation for people giving time to voluntary and community organisations is to gain experience that will lead to employment. It is the responsibility of organisations to be clear about how and why they engage the help of individuals within the work that they do. There are legal considerations; you do not want to fall foul of employment law.

You must decide within your organisation whether you would like ‘volunteers’ ‘interns’ ‘work placements’ or a combination of these. However you MUST remember that absolutely none of these positions should carry the responsibilities of a paid worker. If you expect anyone to take on the responsibilities of paid staff you risk being brought to task under employment law.

Here we provide a brief overview of the differences in the types of time giving, but we urge you to carry out further research and ensure that you fully understand the implications behind each of these.

There are several definitions of volunteering, Volunteering England quotes the Compact Code of Good Practice in Volunteering, that volunteering is an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups other than (or in addition to) close relatives”.

People become engaged in volunteering for many reasons, these include: wanting to help others, gaining employment skills, meeting new people, increasing social networks. The essence of ‘volunteering’ is that time is given freely.

In order to ensure that volunteers are not considered ’employees’ you should have clear guidelines around why you involve volunteers, pay out of pocket expenses, have clear role descriptions and volunteer agreements.

Time Banking
Time banking is a form of exchange of time and skills. For every hour of time that is given, an hour of credit is awarded to the person doing the task. A simple example may be, Jo helps Frank to do his garden for 2 hours, Jo has 2 hours in her ‘bank account’, later Jo needs her living room painted, another Timebanker, Sara, helps Jo by doing the painting for 3 hours, Jo uses her 2 hours and will later give more time to pay back the additional hour, Sara banks her 3 hours. Timebanking is a great way to strengthen and building social networks.

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Work Experience
Work experience placements are typically not paid, not contracted, and are short-term. Often used to give young people or others a taster of a particular job, individuals are given the chance to try various tasks or shadow a member of staff. This may be undertaken as part of an educational course. Crucially any placement should provide a supported learning environment.
Students doing work experience as part of a higher or further education course are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage if the work experience is less than a year long.
Source Volunteering England

Work Placement
Work Placement usually refers to the time spent within an organisation or company that supports a course of study. During the placement the ‘worker’ gains experience and training that are related to their studies.

Interns may be paid or unpaid. However there are important employment law implications to consider if you are thinking about taking on interns.

In most cases interns will be ‘workers’, however in practice charities sometimes attach the term ‘intern’ to a volunteer position which allows someone to gain practical experience whilst volunteering to support the charity’s cause. Volunteer interns will be:

  • giving their time freely (i.e. not under contract)
  • reimbursed only out-of-pocket expenses
  • working either directly or indirectly to benefit others (i.e. the environment, individuals or groups)

We would suggest that a volunteer internship therefore be defined as “a timelimited volunteer placement that allows a person to gain practical experience by undertaking an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment, individuals or groups other than (or in addition to) close relatives”.
Source Volunteering England

However, it is vital that you provide the appropriate support and development opportunities to any intern, whether they are paid or unpaid.

The circumstances in which an internship can be offered without pay are limited, and if an intern is effectively performing as a ‘worker’, the employer is obliged to pay them at least the national minimum wage. Organisations that ensure their unpaid interns are not performing as workers may still be at risk if they offer some kind of enhancement. For example, the opportunity of a training contract offered to unpaid interns could mean they are classed as a worker.


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