Volunteering while on benefits

Volunteering is when you choose to give your time to help others without being paid for it. It can help you to develop new skills and try something new. You are free to volunteer while you are receiving benefits. This is as long as the work you do is unpaid and you meet the rules of your benefit.

How volunteering affects your benefits

Volunteering shouldn’t affect your right to benefits. You can volunteer while receiving benefits as long as you continue to meet all the conditions of your benefit. 

You should not be paid for volunteering, however there may be cases where you receive money to cover your volunteering expenses, such as travel.

However, in most cases, if you volunteer full-time and receive an allowance from your volunteering organisation you won't usually be eligible to receive benefits.

It is always best to talk about your choice of voluntary work with the office that pays your benefit - before you start.

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 expenses this will usually be treated as income. It will be 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 the Jobs and Benefits office that pays your benefit.

Tell your benefits office about your volunteering

Tell the office that pays your benefits about any volunteering that you are planning to do before you start. Tell them:

  • how many hours a day you will be volunteering for
  • how many days a week you will be volunteering for
  • whether you will be volunteering for the same hours and days each week, or whether they change
  • what you will do in your volunteer role
  • whether you will get any expenses
  • about any money you get on top of expenses
  • anything else you are given – this may not be money

After you have started volunteering, you’ll need to tell the office that pays your benefits:

  • if you change the hours or days you volunteer for
  • if you stop volunteering

You can ask the organisation you’re volunteering with to give you a letter with this information. Contact your Jobs and Benefits office to report your volunteering.

How many hours you can volunteer for

You can volunteer for as many hours as you like, as long you continue to meet the conditions of the benefit you get.

The conditions for your benefit could include things like:

  • attending a job interview with two days' notice
  • starting work within a week
  • rearranging or giving up your volunteering to start a job

If you’re looking for paid work, you may agree with your Jobs and Benefits office to do some volunteering as part of your activities to prepare for work.

Universal Credit and volunteering

If you get Universal Credit, your volunteering can count to up to half the time you agree to spend looking for and preparing for work in your ‘Claimant Commitment’.

Talk to your work coach about your individual circumstances and what applies to you.

Employment and Support Allowance

If you volunteer while in receipt of Emplyment Support Allowance this will be treated as unpaid permitted work.

If you get a health or disability benefit

If you have a health condition or disability, you can still volunteer. You will not need to have a Work Capability Assessment, just because you start volunteering, and you don’t need to provide evidence from your doctor about your volunteering.

You will still need to let office that pays your benefit about any volunteering that you are planning to do before you start.

Expenses and allowances

As a volunteer, you may receive money to cover expenses connected with volunteering. These 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 Jobs and Benefits office. If the only money you receive is to cover the cost of your expenses from volunteering, your benefit will not be affected.

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, Personal Independence Payment and Carer’s Allowance), you will not be entitled to receive any other benefits.

Unpaid work

If you choose not to be paid for any work you do, this is not the same as volunteering.

Any work you do which someone would normally be paid for will be classed as unpaid work, not volunteering. For example, if you’re working in a business which would usually pay someone to do the work.

The money you would normally have been paid for this work may be counted as your earnings. This is called ‘notional earnings’. It may affect the amount of benefit you receive.

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