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People in receipt of state benefits can volunteer without their benefits entitlement being affected.
People are allowed to volunteer while claiming state benefits, including means-tested benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), incapacity benefit, income support, employment and support allowance (ESA), and Universal Credit.
A person can volunteer as many hours as they like while they are in receipt of benefits, as long as they keep to the rules for getting them.
However, there are some rules that benefit claimants need to be aware of, to make sure that volunteering doesn’t have an impact on the benefits they receive.
Misunderstandings can mean that some volunteers encounter problems, so it’s useful to be aware of the rules and regulations. Benefits are handled by Jobcentre Plus, part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Section 4 of the Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 1996 says:
voluntary work’ means work for an organisation the activities of which are carried on otherwise than for profit, or work other than for a member of the claimant's family, where no payment is received by the claimant or the only payment due to be made to him by virtue of being so engaged is a payment in respect of any expenses reasonably incurred by him in the course of being so engaged.
If ‘volunteers’ get more than out-of-pocket expenses, they will be treated as if they are in paid work and subject to the relevant rules on employment for the benefits they are claiming. They should not get payments in kind, such as luncheon vouchers.
Expense payments must be for the actual cost of the expense. Typical expenses include:
The cost to a volunteer of using their own vehicle can be worked out by using the HMRC’s mileage allowance payment rates. Receipts, public transport tickets etc should be shown to the organisation before they pay back the expenses. The organisation should keep these (or a photocopy if the volunteer needs the original).
Volunteers can be given a payment in advance to use for expenses. It can be difficult for volunteers on low incomes to come up with money for travel and food, even if they’re going to get it back later. Organisations giving volunteers expenses in advance should still make sure they see and keep receipts. Any unspent amount should be returned or taken from the next payment.
Volunteers should not receive any payment other than to reimburse out-of-pocket expenses.
Jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) is paid to people capable of, available for and actively seeking work. Volunteering should not stop people from meeting these requirements.
Available for work means being able to start work immediately. However, people who are volunteering don’t have to be available to start work straight away, but must be able to start within a week, or go to an interview for work within 48 hours.
The Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 2016 say that they can also take part in residential volunteering for a period of up to 14 days. JSA claimants must be easy to contact while volunteering if the chance of a job comes up.
Actively seeking work means that people usually have to take more than two ‘steps’ to find work each week. Examples of steps include applying for advertised posts, speaking to potential employers, writing a CV and signing up with an employment agency.
There are also terms in the person’s jobseeker’s agreement that they must agree to. This explains the type of work the person is looking for and what they’ll do to find it.
The rules for jobseeker’s allowance come from the Jobseeker’s Act 1995 and the Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 1996.
There is no limit on the number of hours that people on JSA can volunteer for, but it’s important that they can demonstrate that they are taking the required steps to actively seek work, and are available for work and interviews.
People who get these disability benefits can volunteer.
The Social Security (Incapacity for Work) (General) Regulations 1995 and the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2013 put volunteering in the category of ‘exempt work’, meaning that claimants are allowed to it carry out.
However, volunteers on disability benefits can face problems, particularly with Jobcentre Plus staff who do not know the rules about volunteering. Organisations can support people by giving them information about their right to volunteer. It may also help to prepare a letter explaining the nature of the voluntary work, distancing it from paid work and explaining the flexibility of volunteering (eg organisations can often change roles to suit the individual’s needs, or accommodate volunteers being able to leave early or not attend on days where their condition makes this difficult, given that there is no obligation upon the volunteer to attend at all).
People who get universal credit (UC) are entitled to volunteer. They will be in one of the following work-related activity groups.
People in the ‘all work-related requirements group’ have to do ‘work search activities’ for as much time per week as they have to be available for work, usually this will be 35 hours per week. Volunteering counts as a ‘work search activity’ for up to half of this time. This is not a time limit on volunteering, but a limit on how much of the volunteering is seen as work search activity. However, people must leave enough time for the rest of their work search hours, which may limit how much time they can spend volunteering.
This means that:
Last reviewed: 19 May 2022Help us improve this content
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