Alasdair Sladen of Community Action Southwark explains how volunteering and benefits work together
Volunteering can be a really rewarding way to spend your time while you are in receipt of benefits, whether you are looking to return to work or if your current circumstances prevent you from doing so.
It can also result in:
- Gaining skills in a new area of work and refreshing old skills
- Bringing your CV up to date for a new employer and showing you are employable
- Improving your confidence, especially if you’ve been unemployed for a long time
Most of the time there should be no problems with volunteering while you receive your benefits but it is always worth checking with your benefits advisor before you start any voluntary work.
You are considered to be a volunteer if you are not receiving any payment for the work that you do in the role, aside from expenses. Volunteering also only counts if you are doing it for a non-profit organisation such as a charity and if you are not doing it as part of a legal obligation, such as a sentence.
By its nature, volunteering should not be costing you money to take part. It is good practice for the organisation you are volunteering at to reimburse your expenses, the costs that you incur as a direct result of your volunteering. This could include costs of transport, meals while volunteering or specialist clothes needed to carry out volunteering. These may be paid to you upfront or after volunteering, and do not affect benefits. You should always keep receipts for these, and produce these for Job Centre Plus if requested.
It’s important to know that if you receive any extra payments beyond your out-of-pocket expenses these may be taken into account and deducted from your benefit as they will be regarded as a form of payment. Even if you received a one off “thank-you” payment for your volunteering, this would count as earnings and would affect your benefits. Our advice would be not to accept any payment other than out-of-pocket expenses that you are claiming back.
A good idea may be to keep a very simple log of hours spent volunteering, and expenses received, as Job Centre Plus can, by law, request this.
Rules on volunteering and different Benefits
Someone can volunteer and claim Jobseeker’s Allowance as long as they are:
- Actively looking for full-time paid work
- Able to attend an interview at 48 hours’ notice; and
- Able to start a job at one week’s notice
Housing or Council Tax Benefit
Volunteering doesn’t affect Housing or Council Tax Benefit as long as the person in receipt of the benefit keeps to the rules of their Jobseeker’s Allowance (see above)
Universal Credit is a single benefit for people who are unemployed or on a low income, to be phased in from 2014-2017 to replace all other work related benefits and tax credits. The main change affects claimants of Universal Credit in the ‘all work activities’ category (those thought to be work ready). These claimants will be assessed as being capable of doing either 35 hours work per work or a specified lower amount. Such claimants are obliged to spend either 35 or the above specified number of hours per week carrying out work search related actions.
Volunteering does count as a ‘work search’ activity BUT: a maximum of half the specified work search hours may be spent on volunteering, e.g. a person deemed fit to work 20 hours per week may volunteer for 10 hours, and must carry out other work search activity for the remaining 10 hours. There is no upper limit on volunteering as long as you can prove that half of your work search hours have been spent on activities other than volunteering.
National Insurance Credits
Someone who receives National Insurance Credits due to them claiming another benefit should carry on receiving them as a volunteer.
Volunteering doesn’t affect Pension Credit unless the person claiming the benefit goes abroad as a volunteer for more than 13 weeks, in which case it could be stopped.
Volunteering hours don’t count towards Working Tax Credit, and volunteering doesn’t affect Child Tax Credit.
Someone can receive Carer’s Allowance if they do volunteering in the UK and care for a disabled person for at least 35 hours a week; and if that person receives the right disability benefit.
If their volunteering takes them abroad for over four weeks, it could affect their Carer’s Allowance.
Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance
Volunteering in the UK or abroad for less than six months won’t affect Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance, but if someone in receipt of either of these benefits wants to volunteer abroad they must tell the Disability and Carers Service.
Employment and Support Allowance
Volunteering doesn’t affect Employment and Support Allowance as long as the person claiming the benefit can still go to a work-focused interview when asked to.
For more information about Welfare Reforms and changes to Benefits, read the CAS Briefing on this topic here.