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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Volunteering while on benefits

You are free to volunteer while you are receiving benefits as long as the work you do is unpaid, and you meet the rules of your benefit. Always check with your benefits adviser before you start volunteering.

How volunteering affects your benefits

Volunteering shouldn’t affect your right to benefits, as long as the only money you receive is to cover your volunteering expenses. For example, expenses to cover travel from home to the volunteering location.

There are no limits on the amount of time you can volunteer for, nor any restrictions on the types of organisation you can volunteer for. The only requirement is that you continue to meet the conditions of the benefit or tax credit you are receiving.

For example, if you receive Jobseekers Allowance, you can volunteer full time as long as you are still actively seeking employment. Also, you must be able to attend job interviews at 48 hours notice and available to take up paid work at one week’s notice.

However, in most cases, if you volunteer full-time and receive an allowance from your volunteering organisation you will not usually be eligible to receive benefits. It is always advisable to discuss your choice of voluntary work with your benefits adviser before you start.

Your benefits adviser will vary depending on the type of benefit you receive. It could be your local council (for benefits such as Council Tax and Housing Benefit), Jobcentre Plus or The Pension Service.

How voluntary work is defined

In terms of benefits and tax credits, you will be considered as being a volunteer if you:

  • do not receive any money for the work you do (this does not include expenses)
  • are not legally obliged to volunteer
  • do something for a not-for-profit organisation
  • do something for someone who is not a family member

If you receive any money apart from money to cover your expenses this will usually be treated as income and taken into account when assessing your benefit. This includes payment in kind and ‘pocket money’. If you are not sure about anything you are given above your expenses contact your benefits adviser.

If you choose not be paid for any work you do this is not the same as volunteering. The wage you would normally receive could be counted as ‘notional earnings’. If you receive an income-related benefit, such as Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing or Council Tax benefit, it could affect the benefits you receive.

Expenses and allowances

As a volunteer you may receive money to cover expenses connected with volunteering. This may include the cost of:

  • travel to and from the place you volunteer
  • any special equipment you need such as waterproof clothes
  • any meals taken away from home during the voluntary activity
  • childcare if you have children

You must declare all your expenses to your Jobcentre Plus office. If the only money you receive is to cover the cost of your expenses from volunteering, your benefit will not be affected.

For more detailed advice on specific benefits read ‘A guide to volunteering while on benefits’ available from the link below.

Some full-time programmes give their volunteers allowances to cover basic living costs and travel. In the case of most benefits (excluding Disability Living Allowance and Carer’s Allowance) you will not be entitled to receive any other benefits.

Work Together - help to volunteer

If you are getting benefits and are keen to volunteer, you can get help to find opportunities from Jobcentre Plus, through ‘Work Together’.

Work Together can help you find out more about volunteering as well as information on where to find opportunities.

If you want to find out more about Work Together, talk to your Jobcentre Plus adviser at your next appointment.

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