Volunteering while on benefits

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. Always check with your work coach 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, such as travel.

There are no limits on the amount of time you can volunteer for, as long as you continue to meet the conditions of the benefit or tax credit you are receiving.

For example, if you receive Jobseekers Allowance you must:

  • still be actively seeking a full-time job
  • able to go to job interviews at 48 hours' notice
  • be available to work at one week’s notice

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 advisable to discuss your choice of voluntary work with your work coach or contact the Jobs and Benefits 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.

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, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Housing Benefit, it could affect the benefits you receive.

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.

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