Dan Sumners outlines Volunteering England's efforts to turn insurance red tape into a green light for volunteer drivers.
Last week the Cabinet Office published Unshackling Good Neighbours: One year on, a progress report on the recommendations of Lord Hodgson’s Red Tape Taskforce.
In the Cabinet Office statement, four initiatives were highlighted:
- the code of practice for volunteers,
- guidance from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) on organising an event,
- the commitment by motor insurers not to charge volunteer drivers an additional premium; and
- new legislation that will improve the portability of Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.
You can see from the report – and our September 2010 briefing to the Taskforce – that Volunteering England has been instrumental in promoting and taking action on three of these issues. This work comes under the banner of our Free volunteering from red tape campaign, which is supported by Volunteer Centres across the country – such as Wiltshire, Tower Hamlets, Rochdale and Kent, to name just a few.
Whilst we welcome the portability of CRB checks, we’re concerned the government risks solving one problem only to create another if in the proposed new system they are portable but not free. But whilst this is ongoing, progress has been much better with insurance related issues.
When we spoke to Lord Hodgson following the establishment of the Taskforce, one of the main problems we wanted to tackle was volunteer drivers being charged a premium by motor insurers. Volunteer drivers provide their time and vehicle to take people to hospital appointments, do their weekly shop or visit friends.
At the time, our Information Service was receiving several calls and many more emails every week from volunteers and volunteer managers, saying they had been told they needed to pay for business cover. This was leading to people having to stop volunteering, or the already cash-strapped organisation having to foot the bill. Along with the Community Transport Association, we felt there had to be a simple solution.
Progress with the ABI
So when we met with the ABI, we made a simple request: would motor insurers agree that volunteer driving is covered under social, domestic and pleasure use? After some internal consultation, the ABI confirmed the majority of their members providing motor insurance would pledge not to charge the additional premium. The ABI subsequently published a list and it has continued to grow.
On the back of this success we worked with the ABI to establish an insurance working group that would bring together members of the insurance industry and the voluntary and community sector. Chaired by David Tyler, Chief Executive of Community Matters and member of the Red Tape taskforce, the group identified a number of issues – such as trustee liability, clarifying what policies actually provide cover for and insurance for the young people’s sector - and continues to work on them.
What we have found, however, is that many of the problems we hear about in the sector are more a matter of misinformation. There is a perception that volunteering and helping out are more risky than they actually are.
A good example was the reaction to suggestions that people should help their neighbours clear snow from their paths a couple of years ago. The tabloid media was filled with stories saying you could be sued for your efforts. Now, whilst this is superficially true – anyone can sue anyone else for pretty much anything – neither we nor the Cabinet Office have been able to identify a single case of this actually happening.
The group therefore decided to produce the code of practice for volunteers. Aimed at individuals offering their time to help others, it provides some basic guidance on staying safe and avoiding risk.
Top of the list is ‘take care in whatever you do’, because as long as you act reasonably and take care you are very unlikely to put yourself at risk of litigation. You should also stop to think about your safety and the safety of others, ask for advice and be clear about what your are and aren’t responsible for.
In terms of insurance, holders of home insurance may be surprised to find out what activities they are covered for, but in most cases you aren’t going to be doing anything that requires you to be insured. It’s for this reason that we’re concerned by some recent moves to promote personal accident insurance to individual volunteers. We’ll be releasing a statement soon, but our main concern is that it increases the perception of volunteering as risky at a time when we are all trying to encourage people to give more time.
We hope that this work has gone some way to reducing both actual barriers to volunteering and the perception of red tape standing in the way, but there is of course more to do. If you know of anything that needs tackling, or wish to support us, do contact us and help us to Free volunteering from red tape.
Dan Sumners is senior policy and communications officer at Volunteering England