Legal Matters

Article modified: February 2020, Author:

We need to point out that VolResource does not employ legally trained staff – the information given on these pages is our understanding from experience and reading, but shouldn’t be taken as definitive. The purpose here is to flag up issues which you may need to explore further and point you in the right direction. You should take legal advice where appropriate.

Copyright and trademarks

See the UK Intellectual Property Office for more details on Trademarks, Copyright and Patents.

Music, Creative Arts

Many people don’t realise they need a licence to play pre-recorded or live music in public – this includes over phones, at events in the office, conferences etc. Some CDs for playing ‘music on hold’ are specially copyright free (actually they cost more to start with, but have no recurring charges). – Community Matters has closed – “offers a low-cost blanket licence to charitable community organisations managing community centres or similar buildings…. The licence covers only the activities run directly by the organisation or by its sections” – annual fee for member organisations £35.25, non-members £47.00. Otherwise, contact PRS for Music (was MCPS – PRS Alliance) on 020 7580 5544. Licensing: phone 020 7306 4500.

Printed publications

Copyright exists on anything which has been published – there is no need to print the copyright symbol, although this usually helps clarify who is the copyright holder. While there isn’t one central clearing house as such, there are various agencies dealing with particular areas. If you wish to reproduce more than a quote or short extract, such as part of a review, you should normally contact the publisher in the first instance.

For copyright on newspaper cuttings, features etc, contact the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA media access), phone 01892 525273, email: The Copyright Licensing Agency licenses photocopying and scanning on other works, and is owned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society and the Publishers Licensing Society, and also operates for the Design and Artists Copyright Society.

Web publishing

Copyright law extends to items published on the web (including this site). We obtain permission before reproducing items here, and would expect the same the other way round. Obviously if somebody is sending out publicity material, there is an expectation that this can be reproduced. So far, it is held that creating links to other web sites is not covered, but it would be highly dubious if a link was disguised to make the connected page seem a part of your own site (= ‘passing off’).


Can include charity logos, trading names. Dealt with by the Intellectual Property Office (was Patent Office), a mark can be registered for UK, Europe or worldwide, but the last can be particularly complex and time-consuming.

Other Common issues


Please see the Working Relations page.

Useful Web Sites

  • Sandy Adirondack, co-author of Voluntary Sector Legal Handbook, has useful info targeted at keeping voluntary organisations up-to-date with relevant legislation, such as topics above, employment law, discrimination legislation etc.
  • British Law is a portal run by volunteers (law researchers and others) linking through to law advice organised by topic, for individuals and small organisations.
  • Law on the Web is mainly advice for individuals and small businesses, but is designed to be highly accessible.
  • compact law (was Law Rights) is a source of ‘free legal information for England and Wales’ mainly for individuals, but includes Health and Safety at Work, Minimum Wage etc.
  • BAILII British and Irish Legal Information Institute provides ‘Comprehensive Access to Freely Available British and Irish Public Legal Information’. Has news and reports on various court decisions, as well as legislation info.
  • LawTel (was New Law Online) – subscription required. For those looking for more in-depth reporting on judgements and other legal matters.
  • International Centre for Not for Profit Law Listed here more for completeness, you can get a list of UK law directly relating to non-profits.

Other key sites

Volunteers and the law

The law around volunteers can be quite complex, depending on circumstances. The following is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, but what we have found that is likely to be useful. Suggestions for other issues which ought to be covered welcome. NOTE: much of this is now out-of-date.


Don’t forget that volunteers working for you are covered by some of the same (or similar) regulations as employees – for example on health and safety, insurance. So see the Employment issues page. But do note that providing some employee ‘benefits’, such as training not directly related to their work, could muddy their status such that legally they become employees.

Criminal Record Checks

NOTE: much of the following is out of date and should be ignored in favour of guidance from Disclosure and Barring Service on Gov.Uk, or Sandy Adirondack’s legal update page. In Scotland, it is Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) checks – see Disclosure Scotland or Volunteer Scotland resources.

Police checks, criminal record, basic, standard or enhanced, free volunteer disclosures. Some of the search terms which should bring you here!

Criminal record checks for Standard and Enhanced Disclosures are for organisations which work with children or vulnerable adults, provide health care, or certain professions such as accountancy. They are only available to employers who are registered with the Criminal Records Bureau. Such registration costs £300, plus £5 for each additional counter-signatory (person able to sign applications on behalf of the registered body). Organisations can group together and register under an umbrella body.

The individual (employee or volunteer) and registered employer apply jointly for a Standard Disclosure (updated version of criminal record certificate), listing unspent and spent convictions and cautions, or, for some types of work, an Enhanced Disclosure also listing police information such as suspicions that did not lead to a caution or conviction. The Basic Disclosure (still not available at Jan 04 – previously referred to as a criminal conviction certificate) will only cover unspent convictions and any employer (registered or not) will be able to require employees, volunteers or applicants to provide a copy.

The fee for standard disclosures is £24, enhanced £29 (but fees have increased since this was written). However, checks on volunteers are free but they still have to go through a registered body so costs are involved!

Charity shops, other public fundraising

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act you are not allowed to ask an individual to declare spent convictions unless they will be working with vulnerable people. So an organisation can only get Basic Disclosure on charity shop volunteers, unless the shop has vulnerable people working there.

The basic check is applied for direct by the potential volunteer (or employee), with minimal verification. It is NOT free for volunteers, and is unlikely to be much use in preventing fraud etc. round handling money.

Children’s charities

Trustees New recruits to the management committee/trustees to children’s charities (for this purpose, a charity whose workers normally work in regulated positions, as per Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 section36) must be “checked against the register” – Protection of Vulnerable Adults (PoVA) list which should be included in standard disclosures. See ‘No Secrets’ PoVA guidance (Department of Health).

Travel, drivers

On own car use, one suggestion on the UKVPM forum is to use information on AA web site to separate the costs of car ownership from the running costs, and re-imburse the latter only. HM Revenue & Customs mileage rates (see taxation page) are the maximum before tax would hit.

Volunteer Drivers

If you pay Volunteer Drivers anything for ferrying clients etc. around, it is worth checking HM Revenue & Customs guidance. The archived advice (haven’t found current version yet..) covers how to work out whether tax is due on any mileage or other allowances received towards the cost of running the car.

Insurance for volunteers driving their own vehicles in the course of their tasks can be an issue – business cover is likely to be required. RNIB has compiled a list of insurers who are more helpful and found that “even sowing the seed that we might suggest other insurers to our volunteers has always, to date, resulted in a successful outcome”. Increases in premium would be seen by Inland Revenue as part of their approved mileage rates and shouldn’t be reimbursed separately. You may be able to find more on the Association of British Insurers, but ‘Motor Conference’ information page has disappeared at July 09.


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