Can I claim compensation if injured working as a volunteer?

Updated: April 9, 2020

Volunteers generously give their time and energy to support others. Despite this, some volunteers are not afforded the same level of health and safety protection as paid employees. So what are your options for making an injury claim if you are injured when working as a volunteer?

Am I a volunteer or an employee?

The simple obvious between an employee and a volunteer is that employees are paid and volunteers are not. However, there may be circumstances where the distinction is less clear, for example:

  • Volunteering for a shelter or charity where room and board are paid for
  • International development work
  • Working as a live-in carer
  • Regular volunteering at an activity group like scouts or guides
  • Working for a religious organisation
  • Volunteering for an agency
Although the line between employee and volunteer status can be blurry, the distinction is not particularly material when it comes to making an injury claim as you will probably still be owed a 'duty of care'.

Duty of care

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty of care to their staff to provide a safe workplace.

A company also owes a duty of care to protect the health and safety of other people on premises owned or operated by the business. Visitors, shoppers, diners and tourists are all protected by this duty. The law even explicitly protects trespassers.

Volunteers are therefore entitled to claim compensation if injured.

Volunteers often work in circumstances that are more dangerous than most regular employed positions, such as:

  • Assisting vulnerable and elderly people
  • Assisting the homeless
  • Work for international charities
  • Volunteering in high-crime areas

By law, volunteers must be provided with appropriate training and support (including PPE). As with employees, volunteers should be exposed to unnecessary risk.

Who would I claim compensation from?

If you work through an agency it may not be immediately clear who to claim against. Under The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations1992, a claim would usually be made against the company in charge of the workplace, rather than the agency that placed you.

What to do if you have been injured working as a volunteer

Report the accident

The organisation that you volunteer for should have an accident book or similar procedure in place to record an accident. When you report the accident, you should give as much information as you can about what happened, and about any injuries you have suffered.

If you remember anything about the accident after the report is filed, you should notify the organisation in writing (e.g. by email).

Get medical assistance

Even if you have suffered only minor injuries, you should still see a doctor.

Seeing a doctor will also ensure you have a clear, official record of the extent of your injuries caused by the accident. This can make it easier when claiming compensation for these injuries if you choose to do so.

If you don’t seek medical attention, or delay in doing so, making a claim will be harder but certainly not impossible.

Make notes

Even if you have a copy of the official accident book record of your accident, you should still write your own account of what happened, and keep copies of any paperwork. It is much easier to gather information like names and contact details of witnesses and photos of the accident scene if you act quickly.

If your injuries have stopped you from collecting these details, you could ask a friend or fellow volunteer to help.

Financial support after an accident

Volunteers do not usually have access to the same government support as employed workers, such as sick pay (SSP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA). You may be entitled to some support if you are, legally speaking, an employee.

In many cases, the only option for volunteers who need financial support is making a compensation claim. Compensation will factor in any medical costs, living costs and any other financial losses. Many volunteers are also in paid employment. If your injury leaves you unable to earn a living, you will also be able to claim compensation for loss of earnings.

How much can I claim if injured working as a volunteer?

Compensation awards are broken into 2 parts:

  • General damages - based on the seriousness and type of your injuries, and
  • Special damages - based on your financial losses, like lost wages and treatment costs

You can usually claim for lost wages if you are unable to work in your day job as the result of injuries you sustained while volunteering.

Our online calculator sets out what you can claim for, and how much compensation you could claim.

No win, no fee volunteer work accident claims

No win, no fee work injury claims are typically pursued through a solicitor. Your solicitor will correspond with the voluntary organisation and their insurance company, to negotiate the best compensation settlement for you.

Under a No Win, No Fee agreement, solicitors' legal fees will only be payable if the claim is successful.

If your No Win, No Fee claim is not successful, you will have no legal fees to pay.

Have you been injured at work?

If you have been injured at work in the last 3 years, you may be able to claim financial compensation.

Find out more about making a work accident claim:

  • Do you qualify?
  • How much compensation could you get?
  • How does No Win, No Fee work?
Work accident claim guide