Dianne Abbott MP has put down an early day motion on volunteering, which:
“…notes that currently those volunteering more than 16 hours per week are not entitled to jobseeker’s allowance; believes this is causing a trade off between gaining valuable skills and work experience and having access to financial support; and calls on the Government to allow people to work an unlimited number of hours on a voluntary basis and still claim jobseeker’s allowance.”
Whilst it’s great to see an MP who wants to make volunteering more accessible, Ms Abbott has made the same mistake as Steven Bubb from Acevo did a couple of months ago, and assumed that there are the same restrictions on volunteering and claiming benefits, as there are on education and paid work.
In fact the rules state that someone on Job Seekers Allowance can volunteer as much as they want to as long as they are still ‘actively seeking work’. The 16 hour rule in relation to volunteering, is nothing but a commonly held myth. It is worrying that this myth is so pervasive that it is held to be fact by Dianne Abbott, all the MPs who have signed the EDM, and the Director of ACEVO. It looks like a major programme of education on what the actual rules are is needed.
AVM have written to Dianne Abbott, and the MPs who signed the motion.
The letter follows below (click ‘read more’). We’ll keep you posted about whether we get any replies.
The Association of Volunteer Managers fully supports your aim, via your Early Day Motion, to make volunteering more accessible to people in receipt of JSA. However the ’16 hour rule’ referred to in the EDM does not actually exist. The rules, as set out in the DWP leaflet: ‘Volunteering Whilst Receiving Benefits (PDF)‘, state that people can volunteer for as many hours as they want to, as long as they are still actively seeking work.
Many people, including many staff in Job Centres, assume that the 16 hour rule which covers education and paid work, applies to volunteering too, but this is not, in fact, the case. This pernicious myth is a major barrier to people who are unemployed becoming involved in volunteering, and we would be very happy to see measures being put in place to tackle it.
We find that volunteers are often given misleading, and sometimes conflicting, advice, by JobCentre Plus staff. The rules around volunteering whilst on benefits are actually quite clear, and do generally support people on JSA who want to volunteer. However people are often misinformed by JobCentre Plus staff, and told they can only volunteer for 16 hours a week, cannot volunteer for the public sector, or sometimes that they cannot volunteer at all. This confusion results in misinformation about volunteering whilst on benefits being spread around like Chinese Whispers.
It is common for people to assume that they’ll lose their benefits if they volunteer, resulting in them trying to hide their volunteering from the Job Centre, or often not volunteering at all. It would be a real step forward if staff working in Job Centres received training around volunteering so that they were able to give people accurate and appropriate advice.
AVM would be very happy to discuss this issue further with you.