Volunteering guidelines

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If you are claiming benefits and are thinking of doing some voluntary work and are confused as to how this will effect your benefits then this article aims to help you understand. If you require further information then contact the Volunteer Centre Aberdeenshire on 01330 825794, or email south@vcaberdeenshire.org.uk or visit our website at: www.vcaberdeenshire.org.uk, or alternatively contact your local Job Centre Plus.

A volunteer is defined as a person who is engaged in voluntary activity for someone who is not a relative and receives only payments to refund expenses reasonably incurred by them in connection with their volunteering. Most volunteering will be undertaken with organisations whose activities are not for profit, for example national and local charities, but it can also be carried out in any business including the public sector.

Someone claiming benefits who wishes to undertake volunteering must be available for work at least 40 hours each week, unless they have restricted their availability for some other reason, for example caring responsibilities. Availability can be accepted providing the claimant is willing and able to attend a job interview on being given 48 hours notice, start work on being given a weeks notice, rearrange or give up their volunteering to start a job if it overlaps with their pattern of availability, or attend an interview in connection with their job search.

You must remain available and actively seeking employment and attend fortnightly wherever possible. In exceptional circumstances postal declarations may be appropriate.

Claimants must take steps to seek work in any benefit week in which they are undertaking volunteering. The activity undertaken through volunteering can enhance your prospects of securing suitable employment although, by itself, it may not constitute an actively seeking ‘step’ into paid work.

Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants can do as much voluntary work as they like. The “so called” ’16-hour rule’ was abolished for volunteering in 2001 as long as volunteers remain available for and actively seek work.

Income Support should not be affected by volunteering, as long as the claimant does not receive anything apart from reimbursement of out of pocket expenses. There is no hour limit for volunteering.

Incapacity Benefit should not be affected by volunteering. There is no hour limit, although claimants are sometimes told that there is a 16-hour rule. This may arise from confusion with permitted work, which is a separate category from volunteering and for which there is currently a limit of 16 hours.

The receipt of 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.