Updated Guidance on Volunteering, Shielding and Furlough

Everything is moving fast since the announcement of the lockdown that came into force on 5 November 2020, and community organisations may be struggling to keep up. This quick primer should bring you up to speed on the key facts.

This article was published on 6 November 2020. We will strive to update it as new information becomes available.

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The growing numbers of Covid-19 cases has lead to the reintroduction of tighter lockdown restrictions across England. The advice now is to stay at home and avoid meeting people you do not live with, except for specific purposes. Various businesses and venues are also closed.

Volunteering

One of the “specific purposes” where people are permitted to leave their home is for “work purposes, or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where you cannot do this from home.” (link here)

Elsewhere on the Gov.uk website (here) it gives more information about volunteering:

“While volunteering, you can meet in groups of any size from different households, indoors or outdoors. When meeting people from outside your household or support bubble, you should follow social distancing guidelines.”

The guidance goes to say that people can travel to volunteer or while volunteering, and restates rules about face coverings. It also lists ways to volunteer, with just four examples given:

  • shop for food and medicine (online, or in person)
  • deliver food and medicine
  • help with food banks and homeless services
  • work on a telephone support helpline

From this guidance, it is unclear whether this is an exhaustive list or just examples. Crucially, the guidance doesn’t state whether contact with other people while volunteering for other causes is currently permitted. However, the links to general volunteering opportunities such as Reach Volunteering imply that any form of formal volunteering meets the criteria.

Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) people

During the first lockdown in March-July 2020, people who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) were instructed to shield. These are the people who are at the highest risk of become very unwell if they were to catch Covid-19 – the list of medical conditions can be found here. During March to July, shielding meant no contact with anyone outside of their own home, except for medical reasons.

This time (from 5 November), the rules aren’t quite as strict. CEV people who live alone can continue to be part of a support bubble with another household. However the government is still advising that they “stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend essential health appointments.” On that basis, demand for community shopping services is likely to increase for this group.

The guidance for CEV people goes on to say, “You may wish to meet up with one other person from outside your household or support bubble, for example, to exercise in an outdoor public place, but we suggest that you always try to do so as safely as possible.” This is the same rule as for the general public. However, it’s a different story for CEV people and work: “You are strongly advised to work from home. If you cannot work from home, you should not attend work for this period of restrictions.” People in this situation may be eligible for furlough (see below).

While these restrictions for CEV people aren’t as tough as in the first lockdown, it’s important to realise that the risks to their health are just as high. Community support groups may wish to consider how they can encourage these people to stay safe while still maintaining some kind of social contact.

Extension of Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furlough)

On 30 October 2020, the day before the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS, also known as Furlough) was due to be replaced by the less generous Job Support Scheme, it was announced that CJRS would be extended through November for this latest lockdown period. On 5 November, there was a further announcement that CJRS would be extended to 31 March 2021.

The latest guidance is yet to be published, but as of 31 October, the guidance is that employees can be placed on full-time or part-time furlough, with the government paying a grant to the employer to cover 80% of salaries for the hours not worked, up to a monthly cap of £2,500. Employers have the option to top up salaries.

Previously CJRS was only available to people who had already been placed on furlough before 1 July 2020. The government’s CJRS page still states this rule, although BBC News reports that employees “must have been on the payroll by 30 October 2020. They do not need to have been furloughed before.” This is backed up by the guidance on this government page. We will update this page when the change to the rules is confirmed.

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