Information on Volunteering and Benefits

Volunteering can be a great way to gain new skills and experience whilst on benefits. It can help you increase your employment prospects or explore a new career path.

For the most part there should be no problem undertaking a volunteer placement whilst on benefits, though there are exceptions to this and you should always make sure to check with your benefits adviser before starting a volunteering opportunity.

When receiving unemployment benefits there are a few things you should be aware of:

•There is no limit on the hours you can spend doing voluntary work, but you must still meet the requirements of your benefit. This is something you should talk to your benefits adviser about.
•A voluntary opportunity will not give you a contract of employment so you cannot be sued or penalized for not carrying out any work you have agreed to do.
•It is not considered volunteering if you can be paid for the work you are undertaking but choose not to be. For example: Internships.

You cannot be paid, rewarded or given benefits-in-kind for volunteering work that you undertake.

You can be paid – or reimbursed – for money you spend whilst working as a volunteer. Expenses are usually paid on travel, food, childcare and equipment bought solely for the purposes of completing voluntary work. However, you should declare these expenses to your benefits adviser.

You are paid expenses for the cost of travel, which includes driving your car, taxi, bus, train, motorbike and cycling.

Example:

Gemma volunteers for a local charity. She gets paid expenses for travel even though she walks to her volunteering placement. This means she is not being reimbursed for out of pocket expenses and is thus being paid. Paid work entitles individuals to employment rights, such as the minimum wage, therefore Gemma is not considered to be volunteering.

Ronan volunteers for a charity where all volunteers are given childcare expenses if they have a child, however, Ronan’s sister cares for his child whilst he is volunteering. This is considered paid work.

You cannot receive in-kind benefits for undertaking volunteering work. A benefit in kind is considered to be something which has a monetary value and is not available to everyone.

Example:

Muhammad has a volunteer placement at an animal shelter and is allowed to take home animal food and receives free veterinary care for his pets. This is a service not available to the general public and is as a result of his volunteer placement.

Lisa is volunteering for a domestic abuse charity and, during the course of her placement, she receives training in first-aid. However, Lisa’s volunteering role does not include any first-aid responsibilities. This is considered a benefit in-kind.

You cannot receive a reward that you would only receive after a set period of time. This does not include recognition for your activities or awards.

Example:

Louise has had a volunteer placement with a charity and is guaranteed employment after 4 months. This is considered a reward and would entitle Louise to employment rights such as the minimum wage.

Daniel a volunteer for a charity in their shop and receives a discount on items in the store. This is classed as a reward and would mean that Daniel is an employee.

Know Your Rights

Be sure to know the rights and responsibilities of being a volunteer before you start a new volunteer placement.

More Information

For more information on volunteering and the benefits system take a look at these websites:

SWAN - Volunteering in Stockton-on-Tees

CAB - Volunteering in Stockton-on-Tees

Gov.uk Volunteering in Stockton-on-Tees