Volunteer work at the wheel

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by GEM Motoring Assist

We look at the opportunities for doing your bit as a car driver or motorcyclist – while still staying on the right side of the law.

 

Introduction
Many people with a little spare time regularly offer their services as drivers in the community. The vast majority of these drivers are providing lifts to appointments for others who perhaps do not have access to public transport, or find it difficult to use. As with most volunteer roles, there is more to driving than simply agreeing to pick someone up, drop them at an appointment and collect them an hour later! Issues such as insurance, vehicle and personal safety, mileage rates and reimbursement all need to be understood and dealt with before you commence your good work.

An array of opportunities for drivers
There are many volunteer car schemes operating across the country, most of them providing a means for others to attend appointments at the doctor, clinic, optician, dentist, hospital or day centre. They may also help people to get out and visit a friend or loved one, or just to get some shopping done. Or they may assist with the delivery of hot meals to frail people.

The past few years have seen an increase in the role of ‘community first responders’ – members of the public who are trained in the use of certain first aid techniques (such as administering oxygen and using a defibrillator) who can respond immediately to the local ambulance control room and attend a potentially life-threatening emergency close to their home or place of work.

Although the nature of this work is ‘emergency response’, no exemptions are made to road traffic law. In other words, as a community first responder answering a 999 call, it is still your responsibility to drive within the parameters of road traffic legislation at all times.

Opportunities for motorcyclists
Suitably qualified motorcyclists can apply to join one of the volunteer blood delivery schemes in operation across the UK. Riders usually need a clean licence and an advanced qualification (such as those issued by the IAM or RoSPA) and must be prepared to ride at night, delivering supplies of blood to hospitals. Depending on the urgency of each job, the use of blue lights is sometimes authorised, although there is no dispensation for riders to break speed limits.

What the law says
Assuming you will be using your own car for the volunteer work, then the organisation you’re working for will need to know that you are legally entitled to drive it. Additionally, they may check that you are competent and properly trained to drive it safely. They will also need to check that your car is safe and ‘road legal’.

Expect a check of your driving licence before you begin your volunteer driving. If you collect points on your licence, you should inform the organisation.

If your volunteer work involves regularly driving ‘vulnerable’ people, then the organisation you’re working for may require you to undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check. If this is necessary, the organisation will explain the steps involved.

Insurance for voluntary work
Before agreeing to offer your services as a driver, you will need to inform your insurance company if you will be using your own car. Write to them, explaining that you will be driving in a volunteering capacity. This will ensure that your policy remains valid.

Claiming a mileage allowance
Some, but not all, volunteer driving positions allow you to claim a mileage payment for the driving you do. HM Revenue and Customs sets tax-free mileage rates known as Annual Mileage Allowance Payments (AMAPs). The beauty of this is that you can be paid your mileage claim without the need to keep detailed records. The tax-free mileage rate is the estimated total cost for the fuel you use, the wear and tear on your car and insurance.

Useful links and contacts

  • WRVS
  • An excellent source of information with details of how to get involved as a volunteer driver is community first responders
  • A site offering a good explanation of volunteer ambulance response work, with links to individual schemes across the country is HMRC.

 Details of the amount of money that should usually be claimed for your personal mileage expenses.

Frequently asked questions

Can I drive a minibus under a volunteer scheme?
Yes you can. If you had entitlement to drive cars before 1 January 1997, then you can drive a minibus, as long as it is not being used for hire or reward. This applies to driving in the UK only – in other words, you cannot drive it abroad.
Bear in mind that most organisations looking for volunteer minibus drivers are likely to require that you attend training, and they may stipulate that you complete a nationally approved assessment or qualification.
If you did not have an entitlement to drive cars before 1 January 1997, then your licence allows you to drive vehicles with up to eight seats. Therefore you will need to pass an additional test in order to drive a minibus.

I’m not available every day. Will that be a problem?
Most organisations work on the basis of making advanced bookings. Therefore, if you are not available on – say – Mondays and Wednesdays, then you can make this clear before you start.

I don’t like driving in big towns and cities. Can I still be useful?
Almost certainly. A great many volunteer journeys, by their nature, are local. If you make clear your preferences before you start, then there is unlikely to be any problem. Some drivers, on the other hand, enjoy making longer journeys. Again, these preferences can usually be taken into account.

Is there an upper age limit for becoming a driver?
Different schemes have different driver age policies. In general, you could expect to be able to drive as part of a scheme until you are 80.