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What are Good Neighbour Schemes and do you need insurance to set one up?


Good Neighbour Schemes help connect volunteers to people in your local area

Everybody needs good neighbours, as the theme song to a certain hit Australian TV soap goes.

One small act of kindness can mean the world to someone else. And who better to offer it to than a neighbour?

Good Neighbour Schemes (GNS) are a direct and effective way to help people in your local area. The start-up costs are relatively low. And you don’t need to register as a charity to run (though you might find it helps with funding).

That said, setting up a GNS takes more than hard work and a burning will to do good.

Safety is at the forefront of any community work and there’s lots to consider: such as how to train and organise your volunteers, which safeguarding procedures to implement and what insurance to take out in case there’s an accident.

So you should learn exactly what’s involved before you start. By planning ahead, you’re more likely to run your scheme in a way that’s as risk and claim-free as possible.

And be in a position to deliver the best possible service to your neighbourhood.

What are Good Neighbour Schemes?

Good Neighbour Schemes are local volunteer groups set up to care and look out for vulnerable members of the community and those in need.

They’re a lifeline in smaller towns and villages where cuts to public transport and amenities mean some residents might struggle. Especially the sick or elderly or those who can’t drive.

Generally, volunteers visit residents’ homes to help out with simple tasks like cooking, cleaning, DIY and gardening. Some might drive to pick up shopping or medical prescriptions or offer a lift to the doctor’s.

Good Neighbour Schemes sometimes offer more specialised services, like hairdressing or pet sitting, while others might host social clubs and organise day trips.

Most operate around an appointed ‘duty officer’, who takes calls from neighbours in need and allocates a volunteer to help them.

How to go about setting up a Good Neighbour Scheme

Anyone can set up a Good Neighbour Scheme in their local area. All it takes is some time, effort and willing hands to help out.

First steps are to:

Check with your local or regional council to see if a GNS already runs in your district. Local authorities can offer support with setting up (e-learning courses, online toolkits etc) or point you to other charitable organisations who might help.

Run a community survey to figure out how many people would benefit from the scheme. Also, which services are most needed and numbers of interested volunteers.

Call a meeting with locals to raise support for the scheme. You can invite local health visitors, neighbourhood watch members and parish councillors, as well as representatives from any local groups or clubs.

Set up a committee to keep things on track and smooth out any problems. This should include a chairperson, treasurer and secretary, as well as co-ordinators for things like transport and volunteer recruitment.

Secure funding. Start-up costs are relatively low for a GNS (about £1k) and you can obtain grants from local volunteer groups. For further funding, reach out to local, parish, town and borough councils, and to local or national charities. You can also run your own fundraising events.

Don’t forget the practicalities and all the day-to-day things a GNS needs to run effectively. These include a constitution, safeguarding policies, volunteer procedures, a confidentiality statement, bank account, insurance cover and a mobile phone.

Dos and don'ts of running a Good Neighbour Scheme

Legally, all volunteers must pass a DBS (Disclosure & Barring Service) check before starting. They should also have an ID badge and, ideally, be accompanied on their first call-out.

Volunteers should be trained and offered relevant practical or e-learning courses (for example, in first aid, safeguarding, food hygiene awareness and manual handling).

Any gardening, cleaning or DIY tasks should be completed with proper protective gear on, including safety goggles, boots and gloves.

New residents-in-need should ideally have a simple risk assessment carried out in their home to pick up on any risks or hazards.

Volunteers shouldn't take on jobs they’re unqualified for or carry out risky tasks like using power tools or climbing ladders. Not only is it unsafe but it could invalidate their insurance.

Note down all activities and keep records of finances. Any personal information collected about volunteers and residents must be confidential and kept secure.

Volunteers should receive an information pack with forms outlining all equal opportunities, confidentiality and data protection, health and safety, and safeguarding policies. You should make sure all forms are signed and returned as soon as possible.

Do you need insurance to run a Good Neighbour Scheme?

You should have insurance, yes. Public liability (PL) at least, to protect residents when volunteers are visiting their homes. And to cover gatherings like social clubs, public meetings and fundraising events.

Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, it's easy to imagine a scenario where Joe Public gets hurt or has their property lost, damaged or trashed (hence the ‘public’ bit in PL).

Someone trips over an electrical lead at a group meeting and breaks their ankle, for example. Or a volunteer drops and damages an expensive painting while trying to hang it up inside a resident’s home.

If that happens, public liability insurance pays for a solicitor’s expert advice and covers any compensation you might have to pay.

What other types of insurance are there?

If you decide to register your GNS as a charity (and it’s worth considering for funding purposes) you might find other types of charity insurance useful too.

Charity employers’ liability (EL) insurance, for example, to cover and compensate your volunteers for accidents during even simple tasks, like making a cup of tea or changing a lightbulb. Your volunteers are helping out of the goodness of their hearts, so it makes sense to protect them with EL.

And if your GNS actually employs anyone as staff, then you’ll need EL by law. The Health & Safety Executive can fine you big for not having it when you should.

Covering your committee members with trustees’ insurance is also a good idea. Remember, as a charity, you’re accountable to charity law. Which means anyone who runs your scheme is personally liable if there’s an accusation of wrongdoing. Because of that, your risks go up.

For more detailed info on charity insurance, have a read of our simple guide.

If you already have everything you need, you can go ahead and insure your GNS online. Or call us on 0345 222 5391 to talk it all through.

Image used under license from Shutterstock.

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