Save childcare expenses for volunteers! (UPDATED 11th Jan)

The government Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has just published the results of its consultation on volunteers and the minimum wage. Alarmingly, paragraph 2.14, states:

“Reimbursement of childcare expenses represent a significant benefit in kind and as such would change the nature of the relationship between voluntary worker and qualifying organisation”

This is completely wrong, care costs are obviously a legitimate expense, and not a benefit or perk. Organisations should be able to reimburse the costs of any carer who has had to buy in care whilst they are volunteering. There is absolutely no legal precedent for BERR’s comment; in fact it contradicts recent legal rulings on the status of volunteers, and the Department for Work and Pensions’ views on volunteer expenses.

We feel it is important to let BERR know that they have got it wrong, and that reimbursement of care costs is not a benefit. If organisations were to stop reimbursing care, then it would act as a significant barrier to carers on low incomes who want to offer time to their community.

If you would like to voice your concerns we suggest you write to:

John Hutton, huttonj@parliament.uk (Secretary for State for BERR), and;

Helen Dwyer, helen.dwyer@berr.gsi.gov.uk (the person dealing with the consultation at BERR).

We have put together a sample letter (attached below); obviously this has more impact if you can take the time to add your own thoughts and experiences.

If you’re happy to let us know you’ve contacted BERR on this issue, CC us at AVM (info@volunteermanagers.org.uk) when you email BERR and we’ll contact you should we hear any news.

Update 27th December 2007

The campaign has just been mentioned in Third Sector. Read more here.

Many people who’ve joined the campaign and written to John Hutton have received the following two responses from BERR:

Thank you for your e-mail of 13 December to the Rt Hon John Hutton MP, the Secretary of State, about the National Minimum Wage and Voluntary Workers. The Secretary of State receives a large amount of correspondence every day and cannot answer all of it personally. I have been asked to reply.

The Government consulted on National Minimum Wage and Voluntary Workers from 12 June to 4 September 2007.

The consultation received 41 responses. After carefully considering all views, the Government issued its response on 27 November. On the issue that you raise, the Government response to consultation reflected our concern that reimbursing childcare expenses could bring an element of obligation or gain over and above the traditional concept of volunteering. I would like to thank you for bringing your views on this matter to our attention. We will keep this issue under review.

We also received this one that seemed to be confusing the issue of Childcare expenses with Childcare Vouchers:

Thank you for your e-mail.

Childcare vouchers come under the heading of a salary sacrifice scheme.

In November 2005 DTI submitted evidence on various issues including salary sacrifice schemes to the Low Pay Commission. The Low Pay Commission is the independent body which advises the Government on minimum wage issues. The Commission also takes evidence from employers, employer bodies, unions and other interested organisations before making any recommendations.

The Low Pay Commission report, published in March 2006, concluded that childcare voucher schemes would benefit few low paid workers; the majority would be better off claiming support for childcare through the Working Tax Credit system.

They found that salary sacrifice schemes for home computers, bicycles to work and other benefits were less common and less well developed and employee take-up rates in firms that offered these benefits were often quite low. In addition, many part time low paid workers would gain no advantage from these schemes.

The Commission concluded that allowing these schemes to count towards minimum wage pay would complicate the legislation while only benefiting a small number of workers. They therefore recommended that salary sacrifice schemes should not count towards the minimum wage.

The Government accepted this recommendation and salary sacrifice schemes do not count towards minimum wage pay.

If you require further information on what the Low Pay Commission said in their report on salary sacrifice schemes, a copy of the report can be found on their website at: http://www.lowpay.gov.uk/lowpay/report/pdf/2006_Min_Wage.pdf

A big thank you from all those who have written to John Hutton. We will keep you abreast of any developments on this issue.

Update 11th January 2008

Thanks to all the people who have written to BERR about care expenses, there seems to be a positive (but slow!) move forward. AVM have been contacted by BERR to say that they are taking our concerns seriously, and exploring the matter.

Apparently, they feel there are some problems in coming up with a solution that would cover not only volunteers, but also ‘voluntary workers’, a term used in the National Minimum Wage Act to describe people who are working in schemes such as CSV, or Project Scotland, where they may receive ‘benefits’ such as accommodation, or a weekly allowance, over and above their actual expenses.

They have said they hope to get back in touch over the next couple of weeks, with further information.  They seem keen to talk to us further about this, and to have our input.  It is important that this issue remains a priority for them, and that they understand both volunteer involving organisations, and volunteers with caring responsibilities, need a swift resolution to this, so if you can pass on the message, please do.

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