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Coronavirus and volunteering FAQ

Note: these FAQs are created considering Scotland (specifically Edinburgh), but they might be helpful in other contexts too.


Volunteers are approaching my organisation but we are struggling to involve them. How can they help?

In your organisation

It’s no longer business-as-usual, so volunteer programmes and opportunities will have to change or adapt. The basic advice is to keep things simple and use common sense. Some roles will be less affected than others, for example, those related to desk-based work, such as graphic design, social media, website, etc. Others will be certainly be altered or stopped, especially those that support vulnerable groups, such as befriending and similar roles. Members of the public want to help and will be approaching your organisation. Think of how they can help. For example:

  • Tasks that can keep going with little or no change e.g. social media, website design & maintenance, graphic design.
  • Tasks that can be done remotely rather than face-to-face e.g. making phone calls to clients instead of home visits.
  • New tasks e.g. can your usual café volunteers deliver food to those customers instead. It is important to note that new tasks should be simple and not require extensive training.

If you can’t involve them

Volunteer Edinburgh’s advice for people who are looking to help is very simple: Think Local Act Local. Basic neighbourliness is absolutely vital in a crisis, whether it is extreme weather or coronavirus. There are many ways in which you can make a real impact right where you live: Check on neighbours, especially anyone who may live alone, anyone elderly or potentially vulnerable. If someone is self-isolating or unable to get out for whatever reason – can you help by doing practical yet vital tasks such as:

  • Collecting a prescription or over the counter medications that may be needed.
  • Doing some basic grocery shopping.
  • If you are making a meal offer to make a portion for someone who may not be feeling able to cook for themselves.
  • Take their bins out on bin day.
  • Offering to exercise their dog if they have one and are not to do this themselves.
  • It is often the little acts of kindness that have the most impact.

Naturally, if someone is unwell or self-isolating precautions should be taken, but good common sense applies and you should always follow NHS Advice. Remember that offers of support and help can be made by phone, on a note with your contact details put through a letter box or on local neighbourhood online forums such as Nextdoor. One of the most significant risks is to people’s sense of isolation and loneliness. A phone call or offers of help can make all the difference for someone who may have limited or no contact with others. It’s very simple… it shows that someone cares.

How to get ready for building re-occupation?

This guide from Volunteering Matters provides useful information: COVID-19 Building re-occupation checklist for volunteer organisations


A message from Disclosure Scotland

Disclosure Scotland is making a temporary change to how applications are processed.

We have been working closely with the Scottish Government and key stakeholders on our response to coronavirus (COVID-19).

In addition to our prioritisation of checks for those who have the most vital roles supporting the country during this time, as of Monday we will no longer be accepting paper applications.

On Monday (30 March) a new page will go live on our website with all the materials you need to continue to submit applications.

Please note; this process should only be completed by countersignatories.

  • you can submit an application via email using the template on our website
    • electronic signatures (typewritten or scanned) from the applicant and countersignatory will be accepted
  • we will process the application through a priority service
  • where possible we will email you a notification of the outcome, prior to receiving the paper certificate in an expedited timeframe
  • when this is not possible there will be two other outcomes
    • you will not receive any advance notification and will have to wait on the paper certificate which will still be in an expedited timeframe
    • you will receive a notification advising that we are unable to prioritise your application at this time and will be unable to give a timescale for completion

If we do not send you a disclosure, either by email or certificate, please do not assume this is because we are late or have made a mistake. A small number of applications need us to be fully operational to process and that is impossible at this time. At this critical time, we are providing a safeguarding service to ensure the vast majority of applicants can get cleared to help with coronavirus.

If you are submitting urgent applications related to coronavirus in the following weeks please contact our dedicated helpline on 0141 302 8511. We will want to plan with you how we go about doing this most efficiently.

As it stands the list of prioritised roles remains:

  • Healthcare
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Childcare
  • Social work
  • Social care
  • Prisons and justice

As the situation develops and evolves, the list of prioritised sectors may change as Disclosure Scotland identifies other sectors with roles critical to supporting the Scottish Government during this crisis.

What roles need a PVG?

Source: PVG and Coronavirus, Volunteer Scotland

In brief, work or volunteering which involves certain activities with children (under 18) or protected adults (aged 16 or over) which is regular and the person’s normal duties, qualifies for a PVG check. Some of the types of activities are teaching, training, instructing, supervising, caring for, being in sole charge, giving advice and guidance in relation to health and wellbeing.

For protected adults, we also have to consider both the service you’re providing and who it’s provided to, which is a little more detailed. The organisation needs to be either a Welfare, Care, Health or Social Care organisation and the adults you provide your service to need to have particular needs. A particular need is a specific requirement an individual may have arising from physical or mental illness or disability which may disadvantage that person when compared to the rest of society.

We have checklists for both children and protected adults which list the full range of activities (including determining if your adult service meets the criteria) to help you decide if someone is doing regulated work which qualifies for a PVG check.

What roles don't need a PVG?

Source: PVG and Coronavirus, Volunteer Scotland

There has been a rapid increase in 'community volunteering' in response to local needs. Many organisations are concerned that until a PVG has been accessed, they will be unable to utilise new volunteers, increase their capacity or introduce new services such as telephone befriending and community transport.

While many of these activities may be considered a regulated work activity, we need to give further consideration to whether (at this time) the new volunteers will be carrying out their role regularly and as part of their normal duties. We also need to consider whether the activities are being directed at children or protected adults, or more generally to the community, as not every person in self-isolation will have symptoms of the virus (e.g. they may be self-isolating as someone else in their household has symptoms, they may have an underlying condition which puts them at greater risk or they may be self-isolating due to Government advice based on their age).

In order to qualify for a PVG check, new volunteers would need to be carrying out a regulated work activity with children or protected adults regularly and as part of their normal duties with an organisation. As we are in the very early stages of self-isolation, it’s currently not possible to determine if the activities will be regular or normal duties. Your organisation may also consider that the new services or increased provision is in response to a crisis / emergency situation (which would not require a PVG).

There are several support activities which definitely do not require a PVG check such as shopping, cash handling, having access to people's details and dog walking. Each organisation has to risk assess these activities and consider whether there is a need for any further safeguarding such as supervising new volunteers more closely.

Can PVGs be transferred?

Source: PVG and Coronavirus, Volunteer Scotland

No. A PVG certificate is issued in relation to a specific role and workgroup(s) within a named organisation. When an organisation accesses a PVG check, they registered their interest in the applicant so that they are notified if the members status changes to either 'barred' or 'considered for listing'. This is why scheme members still need to complete another form when they move to another organisation. It is also worth bearing in mind that the scheme member will also have a copy of their PVG which they can share if they choose to.

Can organisations share PVG information?

Source: PVG and Coronavirus, Volunteer Scotland

Yes, section 80 of the Disclosure Scotland Code of Practice gives guidance on this. Care must be taken to ensure the organisation information is being shared with, is entitled to PVG information for the role in question and the scheme member must give you written consent to share their information. You should retain this permission in case there are any queries about sharing PVG information in the future. It is also worth bearing in mind that the scheme member will also have a copy of their PVG which they can share if they choose to.

Section 86 and 87 of the Code of Practice allow for information to be shared in relation to health and education transport services. The Code allows information to be shared with specific bodies (e.g. a school, college or health body). Please refer to the Code for full details of this exemption. The Code of Practice can be found on Disclosure Scotland’s website.

How do we undertake an appropriate identification check on a PVG applicant?

Source: PVG and Coronavirus, Volunteer Scotland

At the current time as we all practice social distancing how do we undertake an appropriate identification check on a PVG applicant?

As a group that is accessing disclosures it is your decision as to what pieces of identification documentation you check and how you see them to ascertain that the applicant is the person whose documentation you are seeing.

These are some of the options available to you in practicing social distancing but still being able to submit a disclosure-

  • They scan/photograph the documentation and send them to you as attachments via email or text message.
  • Copies of the documentation are sent through the post.
  • Using video via phone, webcam or similar to check the identification documentation. They show it to you via the camera and you can note relevant information as required.
  • Information is dropped off to you via your letterbox and then returned to the applicant once it’s been checked.
  • As a last resort face to face identification can be undertaken but please remember to follow the guidelines on social distancing.

Can I order paper PVG applications?

Source: PVG and Coronavirus, Volunteer Scotland

No. We are currently unable to send paper forms to organisations as our office is closed. We will not action any requests which we receive during the period our office is closed. Please refrain from submitting any requests for paper applications until our office is open again.

For priority applications which are required during coronavirus, please complete the new online application form.

Do I need a PVG check for new roles, new staff/volunteers, change of duties in response to Covid 19?

Source: PVG and Coronavirus, Volunteer Scotland

We've had some queries around eligibility for PVG for staff and volunteers in organisations who are being moved into a regulated work role temporarily to help out in critical areas, and whether it is their normal duties.

We have also been asked whether PVG would be required in relation to new staff and volunteers taking up a variety of roles in response to the ongoing covid-19 virus and self-isolation.

In order to be entitled to access a PVG check, the role must involve at least one of the regulated work activities (see our children and adult checklists in the resources section of our website), must be the applicants normal duties and for roles with adults, the organisation must also meet the definition of a care, welfare, health or community care organisation (see our adult checklist).

Normal duties

The PVG Explanatory Guide does allow for unforeseen circumstances to be excepted from PVG (meaning that no PVG is required). If the activity is a one-off or someone is placed into a role as emergency cover for a very short duration, then it is unlikely to meet the “normal duties” test.

However, as the covid-19 situation is likely to go on for some time, if the organisation is anticipating that those staff/volunteers will move into the regulated work roles for as long as required, then that could become their “new normal duties”, even though it is temporary. Therefore they would be eligible for PVG, and it would be an offence for an organisation to place someone who's barred into a role with a group (children or adults) they are barred from. It would also be an offence for a barred person to apply for or carry out a role with a group they are barred from working with.

It is for the employer to decide whether the placement is temporarily someone’s “normal duties” or not.

Community volunteering/telephone befriending

The normal rules around welfare service and targeting adults with particular needs (the definition of a welfare service and particular needs are detailed below) still must be met before these posts would be eligible for PVG. Delivering shopping, having access to cash, having access to peoples details or giving someone a cheery phone call are unlikely to be a regulated activity during the Covid restrictions any more than it would be outwith these circumstances.

For those roles which do meet the criteria for a PVG check, please refer to the information on priority processing of applications for essential care, welfare and support roles which can be found in the covid-19 section of our website.

If you are still unsure whether you need to access a PVG check, please email disclosures@volunteerscotland.org.uk giving full details of the role and why you think it may require a PVG check.

How to comply with GDPR under the current Covid-19 outbreak?

Source: Summary of ICO's blog post

  • Keep it clear. Groups should ideally have a written privacy notice which is clear, open and honest about how personal data will be used. However, if this is going to delay vital support, then groups can just speak to people.
  • Keep sharing. Data protection law does not prevent the sharing of information, for example, with a local council where it is appropriate to do so.
  • Keep it lawful. The most likely grounds for processing personal data in these circumstances are consent, legitimate interests and vital interests. Groups should take particular care with special categories of personal data.
  • Keep it secure. Groups should still consider the security of the personal data they are handling, but these do not need to be onerous.
  • Keep it to a minimum. Groups should only use what is necessary in the circumstances and securely delete or destroy personal data once it is no longer required.
  • Keep a record. Groups should keep a record of any decisions made that involve the use of personal data, ideally before starting to collect it. However, the ICO understands that this may not be possible currently and suggests notes should be kept of what the group has done, and why, with the aim of making more detailed records when possible.

How to do a risk assessment on new opportunities created due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

It's likely that your volunteering programme has new opportunities that haven't been considered in the past, such as delivering meals, dog walking, and others. Volunteer Matters has prepared quick guides that might be useful for volunteer safely and what steps you can take:

Is there any place I can signpost individuals willing to help to look for online volunteering opportunities?

This is a selection of micro volunteering projects, many of which can be done from home or online.

I know a person who requires a befriender to help them out. Where can I find one?

  • You can advertise for befrienders through Volunteer Edinburgh, if your organisation is going to recruit for that role.
  • Search for organisations that may have volunteer befrienders for the particular client group you have in mind: https://www.befriending.co.uk/directory/
  • You can also find organisations that are able to offer non-medical help directly to people: https://covid-19.scvo.org/

Is there any place I can signpost individuals willing to help to look for online volunteering opportunities?

This is a selection of micro volunteering projects, many of which can be done from home or on-line: https://drive.google.com/open?id=16x-orrppuHcGQwthBuSvIlosL1K1Nwmu

I know a person who requires a befriender to help them out. Where can I find one?

  1. You can advertise for befrienders through Volunteer Edinburgh, if your organisation is going to recruit for that role.
  2. Search for organisations that may have volunteer befrienders for the particular client group you have in mind: https://www.befriending.co.uk/directory/
  3. You can also find organisations that are able to offer non-medical help directly to people: https://covid-19.scvo.org/

Where can I find useful information to support older people?

These are Age Scotland’s 10 top tips on Tackling loneliness during COVID-19 outbreak:

  • Stay in regular touch with older friends, relatives and neighbours by phone, email or video calls
  • Don't forget snail mail - everyone loves getting letters and postcards, or just a note through the door
  • Check if someone needs repeat medication picking up
  • If someone is self-isolating, offer to pick up groceries or other essentials and leave them on the doorstep
  • Find out if someone would like help to set up an online delivery, or do it on their behalf
  • Make sure the person has plenty of entertainment such as books, magazines or puzzles
  • Consider if you can offer help with pets
  • Try agreeing to watch the same TV programme and calling for a chat about it afterwards
  • Encourage people to stay active if they are self-isolating - whether that's moving around the house or a walk away from crowded areas
  • Find out the services available in your area from local councils, charities and other organisation

Coronavirus and benefits. How to claim?

The following page provides information about coronavirus and claiming benefits. It will continue to be updated. Please check this page regularly for updates on the arrangements the Department for Work and Pensions is making to support those who are affected by coronavirus. https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/coronavirus/

How do I get my organisation to work remotely?

These top ten remote working tips (SCVO) can be quite helpful.

I am aware that digital tools can help my volunteers to cope with the negative impact that social-distancing might have on them. Where can I start to support them?

The blog post Self-isolation, social distancing and digital inclusion (SCVO) includes some practical steps to help those that lack digital skills to reduce the impact of social isolation.

Where can I find help for my organisation?

You can find organisations that are able to offer non-medical help to organisations or professionals here: https://covid-19.scvo.org/help/for-organisations

My organisation can offer capacity to help, where can I share it?

You can visit the Coronavirus Community Assistance Directory and offer it there: https://covid-19.scvo.org.uk/