The Road Ahead

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Paying volunteer expenses

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Why you should pay volunteer expenses

Although volunteering is unpaid, it shouldn’t cost a volunteer anything either. Our Time Well Spent 2023 research revealed:

  • an increasing number of people are choosing not to volunteer because they’re concerned they’ll end up ‘out of pocket’
  • a large proportion of volunteers don’t know whether they can claim back their expenses.

Paying expenses helps remove barriers for volunteers on low incomes or with little spare cash. Funders and donors also often like to see that you'll pay volunteer expenses.

You should let potential volunteers know that you pay expenses when recruiting. Consider including this in your role description and advert.

What expenses to cover

You should reimburse any reasonable expenses incurred while volunteering. Check what other organisations in your area offer and consider what local costs are to determine what’s reasonable.

Reasonable expenses include, but are not limited to:

  • travel (including to and from the place of volunteering)
  • meals and refreshments
  • care of dependents (including children)
  • equipment, such as protective clothing
  • support worker expenses (for example, for disabled volunteers or volunteers with chronic health conditions)
  • administration costs such as postage, phone calls and stationery.

It can be helpful to set a limit for expenses such as meals and travel. Be flexible and review this on a case-by-case basis.

For example, food can be more expensive for people who have allergies or dietary requirements. Volunteers with limited mobility, for example due to pregnancy or old age, may need to use more expensive travel options, such as taxis.

Discuss expense limits and adjustments with your volunteers during their volunteer induction.

How to pay expenses

You should create a process for paying volunteer expenses. It’s best to put this in writing, for example in a volunteer expenses policy.

Your policy should include the following.

  • What expenses you will pay and details of any upper limits.
  • How volunteers can claim expenses. For example, by completing an expense claim form, getting it signed by a manager or supervisor and submitting it with receipts for expenditure.
  • A copy of your volunteer expenses claim form. This should also include information for volunteer drivers on the allowed HMRC mileage and fuel rate.
  • How you will pay the expenses. For example, by bank transfer or petty cash.
  • How long it will take to pay expenses after the claim is complete. It’s good practice to pay expenses within one month.

Bexley Voluntary Service Council has a simple volunteer expense policy template that you can adapt to suit your organisation.

Reduce volunteering costs

There are things you can do to help reduce the cost of volunteering with your organisation.

  • Provide low-cost refreshments such as tea, coffee and biscuits at the place of volunteering.
  • Avoid volunteers having to spend their own money. For example, buy resources for volunteering activities, such as crafts materials or gardening tools. Pay for pre-arranged travel such as train bookings out of a centralised account.
  • Let your volunteers know about discounts available to them, such as the charity worker discount scheme. Local organisations such as cafes and museums may also be willing to offer volunteers a special rate.
  • Let volunteers know about low-cost travel options, such as local community transport schemes.

Last reviewed: 29 March 2023

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 29 March 2023

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