There are 2 important things to remember about volunteering while you are receiving state benefits:-
- You are free to volunteer as long as the work you do is unpaid (apart from out of pocket expenses) and you meet the rules of your benefit. It’s always worth checking with your benefits adviser before you start volunteering.
- Volunteering is not something you can be forced to do – it’s your choice.
There are rules for different types of benefits:-
Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA)
People receiving JSA can do as much volunteering as they want, as long as they remain available for, and are actively seeking, work. This means that claimants have to show that they are looking for work and applying for jobs where appropriate. People volunteering are entitled to 48 hours’ notice if they are asked to attend an interview, and a week’s notice before starting work. (These are concessions to the 24 hours’ notice normally allowed.)
Volunteering should not affect someone’s Income Support as long as they are not receiving any money other than true reimbursement of expenses.
Incapacity Benefit (IB)
There is a lot of confusion over Incapacity Benefit. This is partly based on misinformation about old rules and partly due to confusion about current rules.
It is important to note that the “16 hour rule” which set a maximum time limit on volunteering by anyone claiming this benefit no longer exists. An amendment passed in The Social Security (Welfare to Work) Regulations 1998 removed this rule. Now there isn’t a set limit on the amount or type of volunteering that someone can do while claiming Incapacity Benefit.
- People often worry that starting to volunteer will automatically trigger an investigation into their need to claim Incapacity Benefit. This shouldn’t happen and the DWP’s most recent leaflet confirms that “you can still be a volunteer and get Incapacity Benefit or Income Support” as long as claimants follow a set of criteria explained in the guidance. (For further information, please refer to page 13 of “Volunteering while receiving benefits”, DWP/Jobcentre Plus)
- There is occasionally some confusion about volunteering and ‘permitted work’ (similar to the old ‘therapeutic earnings’). The permitted work rule applies only to paid work and should not affect volunteers.
Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
DLA is an allowance paid in acknowledgement of the fact that life for someone with a disability may be more expensive – for instance, someone with mobility problems may be reliant on taxis. Volunteering will not affect whether an individual receives this benefit or not. (For further information, please refer to “Volunteering while receiving benefits”, DWP/Jobcentre Plus)
Housing Benefit/Local Authority Housing Allowance
This is usually paid to people receiving JSA, Income Support, Pension Credit or who have a low income. It should not be affected by volunteering but claimants should inform their local authority about any volunteer expenses they receive. (For further information, please refer to “Volunteering while receiving benefits”, DWP/Jobcentre Plus)
Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
This is a new benefit which was introduced from 27 October 2008. The ESA will replace both Incapacity Benefit and Income Support paid because of disability or incapacity. (Incapacity Benefit and Income Support will continue to be paid to existing claimants; new claimants will receive ESA).
The new regulations on Employment Support Allowance clearly state that claimants will be allowed to volunteer. The regulations also recognise that reasonable expenses can be reimbursed to claimants who volunteer.