Volunteering Factsheet

The facts:

All asylum seekers and refugees are entitled to volunteer, including receiving reimbursement for travel and refreshment where available.  In fact, the Home Office is currently working on developing a strategy to encourage more refugees and asylum seekers to take up volunteering. 

Volunteering is not just an altruistic act but also a great opportunity for advancement in many areas of life.  It can be particularly beneficial for refugees who are seeking to integrate into UK society.  Volunteering brings personal and professional benefits which can include:
• Building confidence and self-esteem
• Learning English
• Learning new skills
• Becoming familiar with UK working environment
• Reducing isolation and making new friends
• Building a network with other professionals
• Getting a reference
• Gaining recognition in your specialist field
A survey carried out by TimeBank through Reed Executive revealed that:
73% of employers would employ candidates with volunteering experience over one who doesn’t.
94% of employees who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited either by getting their first job, improving their salary, or being promoted.
Up to 60% of job vacancies are not advertised and end up being filled internally or through external networking.

Potential issues and how you can work through them:
Volunteering as an unfamiliar concept:
The concept of volunteering may be an unfamiliar one. Volunteering benefits not only the organisation or community but can also bring personal and professional advantages.  See above for these benefits or look on TimeBank’s website for more information.

Lack of confidence:
Many refugees have years of professional experience in their countries of origin but may still lack the confidence to begin a placement in the UK.  Mentors and mentees can work together to produce a CV which will not only be useful in securing a volunteering place but will also help mentees to recognise the skills and experience they already have.  As well as providing encouragement, it could be helpful for mentors to explain some common characteristics of the UK working environment so that it is not too unfamiliar. 

Lack of necessary skills:
Mentees may find they have not yet gained the necessary skills to secure a voluntary placement and some organisations may be reluctant to take on refugees because of misconceptions or lack of resources to invest properly in training or support.  If this is the case, work together to identify the steps needed to make sure mentees are ready: the mentor could signpost them to ESOL courses or IT training, for example.  A number of organisations offer relevant training and Time Together runs occasional workshops on basic office skills and orientation in working in the UK designed to prepare mentees for voluntary placements. 

Finding a volunteer placement:
It can be difficult to know where to start in looking for a voluntary placement.  The first step is to contact your local volunteer bureau or one of the organisations below which specialises in placing volunteers.  Registering with TimeBank will give you details of local opportunities and there may be placements available with Time Together itself.  Alternatively, if you have already identified a possible organisation, approach them directly to see if they work with volunteers.  Use Skillbank to contact mentees who have had volunteering experience.  And don’t forget that your own contacts can be very valuable in offering placements or suggesting others who might know of interesting opportunities.

Finding a good quality placement:
Although voluntary placements are becoming increasingly well organised, there is still a lack of investment of time and resources in volunteers.  Volunteers do not always have access to training or regular support and are often asked to carry out routine administrative tasks which do not make the best use of their skills or provide interesting and useful experiences.  To counter this, look for a placement with an organisation which has a well-established scheme or with a small organization which already relies on volunteers to carry out some of its core work.  The agencies listed below should be able to provide information on the type of voluntary placements available at different organizations.  Before beginning a placement it is a good idea to talk to staff at the organisation and come up with a list of questions together such as asking for a job description, information on training opportunities and details of support and supervision structures. 

Reimbursing expenses:
Many people are embarrassed to ask for expenses to be reimbursed and those from different cultural backgrounds may find this particularly problematic.  The organisation should make clear its policy before the placement starts but, if not, mentees should try and clarify this early on. It is normal practice for all volunteers to be reimbursed and is usually built into the budget of each organisation so this should allay any concerns.  Claiming expenses is not asking for charity! 

Volunteering, benefits and refugee status:
It may also be a concern that claiming expenses will affect a mentee’s benefits.  Volunteering does not affect benefits: more information can be found on the Volunteering England website.  JobCentre Plus provides a factsheet on volunteering which is available through the link below or through Time Together.  The Home Office website makes it clear that refugees and asylum-seekers are entitled to volunteer and to claim expenses but also emphasises the difference between voluntary work and employment. 

Useful Contacts

do-it.org (national database of local volunteering opportunities in the UK):

Home Office: http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/ind/en/home/laws___policy/refugee_integration0/volunteering_and_mentoring.html

Islington Diversity Project (works to help people from BME communities, including refugees and asylum seekers, gain access to volunteering opportunities): http://www.islingtonvolunteer.org.uk/projects/diversity.asp

JobCentre Plus factsheet: http://www.volunteering.org.uk/docs/JSAL7.pdf

REACH (matches the skills of experienced people to the needs of voluntary organisations): http://www.volwork.org.uk

TimeBank (Time Together is based within this national campaign inspiring and connecting people to share and give time): www.timebank.org.uk

Volunteer bureaux (local contact information): http://www.navb.org.uk/
Volunteering England (works to promote volunteering as a powerful force for change): http://www.volunteering.org.uk/missions.php?id=440 (for information on benefits)

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