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Witness Service Volunteering FAQs

Mark Restall - Volunteer Coordinator

These are questions we are commonly asked, and should help to give you a fuller picture of our volunteer opportunities. If you have a question which isn't answered here contact us at ws-volunteering@citizensadvice.org.uk.

Who will I be helping by volunteering?

You’d be supporting a wide range of people - anyone could be a victim or witness of a crime. What they will share is anxiety about giving evidence. Courts are unfamiliar environments, and having to speak about - and relive - an unpleasant experience can be intimidating and distressing. If you volunteer with our Outreach service you will be supporting people who are vulnerable or at risk of intimidation.

By giving your time to help witnesses you’ll give them the information and reassurance they need to give their best evidence.

What should I think about when filling in an application form or attending an interview?

Try to give clear honest examples of how you meet the requirements of the role, and think broadly; examples could be from a range of things you might have done and don't need to be related to employment experience. Relating the questions to concrete examples of what you've done in the past or how you might approach something in the future is much better than simply saying you can do something.

You don't need previous qualifications or specific experience and will receive training and support to help you be able to carry out the role.

Remember that the application and interview is is a two-way process. It enables us to find out more about you and for you to find out more about the role and the Witness Service. It enables us to ensure that you are suitable for the role, and it enables you to ensure that the volunteering opportunity meets your needs and interests.

Do you provide training?

We provide a great deal of training for our volunteers. Court volunteers undergo 3 days of core training. There are an additional 2 days for outreach volunteers and court volunteers who wish to support vulnerable witnesses. This is alongside relevant distance learning (e.g. on data protection, diversity and equality, and the impact of crime).

We also run ‘local delivery sessions’ on topics such as hate crime, sentencing, and restorative justice, so there are opportunities to continue to learn.

Are there certain skills or qualifications I need to be a Witness Service volunteer?

For our core roles we aren’t looking for specific qualifications. In terms of skills, we’re looking for people who are friendly, caring, supportive, and empathetic towards others. You’d also need good communication skills - you need to be a good listener, as well as being able to explain subjects like court processes in understandable everyday language. You can see more about what we are looking for in our role profiles

We may occasionally recruit roles for projects that do need specific skills or experience.

What will I get out of volunteering with Citizens Advice?

All our volunteers get something different from their volunteering experience. Some of the most common benefits reported are improved wellbeing and keeping mentally active. Key reasons current volunteers give for volunteering with us include:

  • To make a difference to the lives of witnesses

  • To give something back to society

  • To do something constructive with my spare time

  • Because I find volunteering enjoyable

  • Because I have an interest in the legal system

  • To meet new people

  • To gain new skills

Will volunteering help me get a job?

We can’t promise this, but volunteering can give you experience, new skills, and confidence. It is a good way of showing future employers that you have used your time constructively.

What support will I get as a volunteer?

You’ll have a Team Leader who will be responsible for supporting you, both informally and through regular 1-2-1 meetings. Our training is very thorough, and you will go through a period of shadowing before being accredited, so you will not be thrown in at the deep end.

Some of our experienced volunteers take on the role of mentor, to provide additional support to new volunteers, although this is subject to availability.

How much time do I need to give?

We do ask for volunteers to expect to be able to stay with us for at least a year after accreditation. This is because we put a lot of resourcing into training.

When / what times can I volunteer?

For our court volunteer role in general we need volunteers to be with us during court opening hours (9-5), although we may be able to accommodate half days within Magistrates courts. You’d be expected to volunteer at least twice a month.

Outreach volunteers need to be a bit more flexible, as meetings with witnesses could be at any time of the day up until 6.30. You’d be expected to support at least one witness per month.

What volunteering opportunities are there for students?

We are happy to welcome students as volunteers. There are some things to consider though:

  • We do not offer work placements - only our court, outreach, and project roles.

  • We do ask that volunteers expect to remain with us for at least a year after accreditation

  • We may be able to arrange for you to volunteer in or near your home town during holidays - please discuss this with us at the recruitment stage.

Will I get my expenses reimbursed?

We reimburse travel and lunch expenses, subject to some restrictions within our expenses policy.

What age restrictions are there on volunteering with the Witness Service?

The minimum age for our volunteers is 18.

There is no upper age limit for our volunteers.

Can I volunteer if I have a criminal record?

Having a criminal record is not, in itself, a barrier to volunteering. We consider each offence individually, based on a risk assessment considering issues such as whether the nature of the offence is relevant to the role.

We will not accept anyone with a caution or conviction for a sexual offence against a child or vulnerable adult.

Does the Witness Service always need volunteers?

This will depend on specific courts or outreach services. Sometimes these can be at full capacity so will not be recruiting. You can see who is currently recruiting here Google Sheet .

Will volunteering affect my benefits?

If you are in receipt of benefits, including means-tested benefits, you are fully entitled to volunteer for as many hours as you wish, as long as you continue to keep to the rules or conditions for getting that benefit.

For example, if you are in receipt of Jobseekers' Allowance, you are fully entitled to volunteer as long as you meet the conditions of your claim (e.g. remain available for and actively seeking a full time paid job etc.) Or if you are receiving Carers' Allowance, you need to continue to provide at least 35 hours a week of care to the person who is receiving the disability benefit. For Jobseekers' Allowance, Carers' Allowance and Income Support, you should inform the Jobcentre Plus office that you are volunteering.

For Employment Support Allowance (ESA), Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Universal Credit claims, you are fully entitled to volunteer and similarly should inform the Jobcentre Plus office of any volunteering you do.  

If you are in receipt of disability benefits such as ESA, IB or Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP) you should take care that your volunteering activity does not appear to conflict with your condition.

You do not need to inform Jobcentre Plus if you are volunteering if you are in receipt of DLA or PIP, unless your care/mobility needs have changed.

There is no need to inform HMRC of any volunteering if you're in receipt of Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit.

If you're in receipt of Housing Benefit and/or Council Tax Reduction you should inform your local authority that you are volunteering.

You should only receive actual out-of-pocket expenses (these are expenses that you might incur in order to volunteer, e.g. travel to where you volunteer).

For more information about things to consider when volunteering whilst on benefits see this helpful NCVO guidance.