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Appendix 3: Volunteering and Benefits

Volunteering, expenses and social security benefits

The receipt of volunteer expenses should not affect any benefits volunteers receive. However, there are certain rules and other information regarding benefit legislation that should be taken into account when reimbursing expenses to volunteers who are receiving benefits. This should not be a barrier to volunteering or to involving volunteers in receipt of benefits.

The rule of thumb is that:

  • volunteering will not affect a person’s entitlement to benefits as long as s/he is only receiving the reimbursement of genuine out of pocket expenses;
  • there is no limit to the amount of hours a person can volunteer when s/he is receiving benefits.

General guidelines

When dealing with volunteers who receive benefits, an organisation should:

  • make contact with the local social security office (SSO) and let them know about the organisation, what its aims are and how it involves volunteers;
  • draw up a  letter which can be adapted for each volunteer and sent to each volunteer’s local SSO which will:
    • clarify that the volunteer will be carrying out a role which would not normally be done by a member of staff and for which s/he will be receiving no payment;
    • inform the SSO of the nature of the expenses that the volunteer is likely to receive, (ie the reimbursement of genuine out of pocket expenses) and include a list of the things expenses will cover;
    • if the organisation offers volunteers training, then point out that the volunteer will be receiving training which is essential for her/him to carry out her/his role;
  • try to identify a person in the SSO who the organisation can contact when in need of information;
  • find out what benefits volunteers receive and provide them with information on how volunteering may or may not affect them;
  • make it clear to volunteers that it is their responsibility to take the necessary steps required by the SSO before they begin volunteering.

 Volunteers who receive benefits should:

  • talk to their local SSO before they begin volunteering to find out exactly what impact volunteering will have on their benefits as each individual case will be different. Volunteers should have the necessary information to do this and ensure they have written documentation from the organisation to back up what they are saying.

Payment in advance

In September 2001, social security legislation changed to allow organisations to pay volunteers expenses in advance of expenditure without it affecting any benefits the volunteer might be receiving.  The benefits that this will apply to are Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit and Income Support. This means that volunteers will not be out of pocket at any stage.  However, the local SSO is likely to require evidence of the amount and nature of the expenditure.  It will be quicker for all concerned if the organisation supplies this information to volunteers as soon as they begin volunteering.  The volunteer can then pass this on to her/his SSO. A standard letter (SAMPLE 1) sets out the information required.

Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)

In order to qualify for JSA, a person must fulfill a number of requirements including:

  • be actively seeking work
  • be available for work. 

A person can still volunteer as often as s/he likes and fulfill these requirements provided:

  • s/he is still looking for work as agreed with her/his Personal Adviser;
  • s/he can be contacted quickly if the chance of a job comes up;
  • s/he is able to stop volunteering and take up employment at 48 hours notice;
  • this rule of availability to take up employment within 48 hours is extended to fourteen days if the volunteer is attending a workcamp within Britain run by a charity or local authority provided the SSO has been notified;
  • the 48 hour rule does not apply if the volunteer is volunteering as a life boat rescuer or firefighter or helping in an emergency where there is serious risk to people's lives or health or property;
  • it is considered reasonable for an organisation not to pay a volunteer a wage for the work s/he is doing.  If it is not considered reasonable, the SSO may reduce JSA by the amount the volunteer could be paid, even if s/he is receiving no wage.  What is considered reasonable is left open to interpretation by each local office.  If there is any doubt it is essential to seek more information on individual volunteers circumstances from the relevant agency. 

Volunteers must tell the SSO that they are carrying out volunteering. Staff at each office have considerable discretion in deciding if a person is meeting the obligations under JSA. It is in the volunteer’s best interest to create an open and honest relationship and show how volunteering does not contradict the terms of her/his JSA. Volunteer-involving organisations should assist the volunteer by providing her/him with information and support. The standard letter SAMPLE 2 contains a sample of the information organisations should provide.

Volunteers must tell the SSO if they receive any benefits in kind (eg honorarium or other payment as a thank you).

Incapacity Benefit (IB)

Volunteers who receive IB should ensure that they carefully follow the rules for this particular benefit.

Volunteers can volunteer for as many hours as they like without affecting their entitlement to IB provided that:

  • they receive only the reimbursement of genuine out of pocket expenses;
  • the volunteering is not for a close relative;
  • they inform Incapacity Benefit Branch that they are volunteering. Although there is no guidance on when to inform the SSO, practice has shown that this is best if it is done before they start volunteering. Volunteers should wait for a reply from Incapacity Benefit Branch before they start volunteering;
  • they inform Incapacity Benefit Branch if they receive any benefits in kind eg honorarium or other payment as a thank you.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

People who receive ESA can volunteer as long as they follow the same basic rules as for Incapacity Benefit, detailed above.

Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

Volunteering will not affect a person's entitlement to DLA. However, volunteers must inform the Social Security Agency that they are volunteering.

Carer’s Allowance (CA)

Volunteering will not effect CA as long as it does not stop the volunteer caring for a severely disabled person for at least 35 hours per week.

Income Support

Income Support will not usually be affected by volunteering as long as:

  • volunteers receive only reimbursement of genuine out of pocket expenses;
  • it is considered reasonable for an organisation not to pay a volunteer a wage for the work s/he is doing. If it is not considered reasonable, the SSO may reduce Income Support by the amount the volunteer could be paid, even if s/he is receiving no wage.

What is considered reasonable is left open to interpretation by each local office.  If there is any doubt it is essential to seek more information on individual volunteers circumstances from the relevant agency.

Volunteers must tell the SSO that they are carrying out their volunteering.

Volunteers must tell the SSO if they receive any benefits in kind (eg honorarium or other payment as a thank you).

Further information

Volunteer Now, 129 Ormeau Road, Belfast BT7 1SH

Telephone: 028 9023 6100  Fax: 028 9023 7570

Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Website: www.volunteering-ni.org

 

SAMPLE 1

Sample letter to local social security office for reimbursement of volunteer expenses in advance

 

Dear

RE: Volunteer expenses for  (volunteer's name and address).

The above person is a volunteer with (organisation). S/he commenced volunteering with us on (date) and volunteer for an average of  (number) hours per week.  S/he will receive expenses to reimburse what s/he spends in the course of her/his volunteering. These expense cover: (select relevant expenses)

  • travel to and from the place of volunteering
  • meals taken while volunteering
  • care of dependants during volunteering
  • travel in the course of volunteering
  • cost of protective clothing.

We have taken (volunteer’s name)'s individual circumstances into account and the estimated amount of expenses that s/he will incur is an average of  £x per week. This will be paid at the beginning of each week and (volunteer’s name) will submit evidence of expenditure at the end of each week.

If you have any questions or would like more information please feel free to contact me on (contact details).

Yours sincerely

 

Volunteer Coordinator

 

SAMPLE 2

Sample letter for volunteers in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance

 

Dear

RE: (volunteer’s name and address)

The above mentioned person is a volunteer with our organisation and is based at (address of place of volunteering.)  S/he contributes approximately (number) hours per week volunteering as a (volunteer role) in order to gain valuable experience in her/his chosen career.

While undertaking this role s/he:

  • will not be asked to do work which would normally be done by someone in paid employment;
  • will receive no remuneration, only the reimbursement of genuine and reasonable out of pocket expenses;
  • will be available to attend an interview or take up employment at 48 hours notice;
  • will be contactable while volunteering should a job opportunity or interview become available. (Organisation) will endeavour to pass on messages as quickly as possible;
  • will receive (on-the-job training/other training), which is essential for the volunteer role;
  • will receive a reference from (organisation) if requested.

If you require further information please do not hesitate to get in touch.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Volunteer Coordinator

 

This Appendix was compiled using Volunteer Now's information sheet Volunteers and Expenses. This leaflet is currently under review.

 

As there may be changes in the coming months, you are advised to check Volunteer Now’s website, as well as the sites of the Social Security Agency and NI Direct for updates on benefits and volunteering:

 

www.volunteering-ni.org

www.dsdni.gov.uk/index/ssa.htm

www.nidirect.gov.uk