Volunteering and UK State Benefits

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Many volunteers have concerns about the effect that volunteering will have on their benefits. Luckily, the rules around volunteering and benefits are actually simple and clear. Anyone who is in receipt of State Benefits can volunteer without it affecting their benefits. However, the following guidance will outline what rules potential volunteers should follow.

What is the definition of voluntary work and how much can you do if you are receiving benefits?

Any volunteering should be undertaken without payment and be by choice. This could include helping out informally or volunteering with a voluntary organisation, public sector organisation or a social enterprise. It would NOT be deemed to be volunteering if the work should be something that an organisation should have paid the volunteer to do. Nor can it be called volunteering if the support work is for a close relative. There is no restriction on the amount of volunteering you can do while in receipt of benefits, however, the conditions of your benefit may require you to still be actively seeking work and be available for work.

The difference between being paid and claiming expenses

A volunteer should not be out of pocket for any volunteering that they do. Volunteer expenses normally cover items such as travel and where possible childcare costs, it can also include overnight stays and cover the cost of any specialist equipment needed to complete the voluntary work. Volunteers that are in receipt of benefits can also claim for lunch/food expenses whilst volunteering. For all expenses:

  • If their benefits are paid by Jobcentre Plus, they must declare all their expenses to them.
  • Any reasonable expenses they are paid by the organisation they volunteer with will not usually affect the amount of benefit they get.
  • Keep all receipts for any expenses including travel tickets.

If it is found that the organisation they volunteer for should have been paying they for their work, then their benefits could be reduced by the amount that they should have been paid.

Notifying the Benefits Office

It is vital that if a volunteer is on benefits and they are volunteering they must let their benefits office know. This should be done before they plan to begin volunteering. Job Centre Plus has the power to stop benefits if they find that a volunteer has started volunteering without prior and proper notification. Also note that if they receive multiple benefits from different offices, they must send each of them a copy. After they have started volunteering, they'll need to tell the office that pays their benefits if they change the hours or days they volunteer for or if they stop volunteering. If a volunteer is claiming health-related benefits they will not need to have a Work Capability Assessment and they won’t require evidence from their doctor about volunteering.

Checklist

If your volunteers are claiming state benefits, they must:

  • Tell the office/s where they make their claim that they are about to begin volunteering.
  • Continue to actively seek work and remain contactable for any job opportunities.
  • Be available for work within one week and be available to attend interviews within 48 hours.
  • Only claim expenses they are entitled to claim for e.g. travel, lunch, specialist equipment, and reimbursement for agreed expenses, e.g. Stationery, phone calls etc. Remember to inform Job Centre Plus and keep hold of any receipts.

Best practices

  • Anything you pay volunteers must be for reasonable expenses incurred because of their volunteering role with your organisation or group.
  • You should reimburse volunteers to the nearest penny (you’re likely to need receipts for audit purposes also) and resist the temptation to provide a flat rate payment.
  • You can provide a cash float to people before they incur expenses to prevent them being out-of-pocket; then processing their receipts and topping up the float. When someone finishes volunteering for your group, they should return any remaining balance.
  • You can provide fuel cards for drivers to ensure they are never out-of-pocket.
  • You can provide a warm venue for volunteers’ meetings, training or to undertake their volunteering activities.
  • You can provide equipment such as clothing if it is, “needed to complete the voluntary work”. This could include clothing for keeping warm during volunteering over the winter months.
  • If you are providing food (rather than reimbursing volunteers for the cost of food), then it should be provided because people will be volunteering outside of their homes at or around normal refreshment and meal times.”

Further information

For further information and guidance regarding volunteering while claiming UK state benefits, please look at details published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/volunteering-and-claiming-benefits.

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