Monday, July 17, 2006

Government putting up barriers to volunteering

The UK government has been warned that it is creating barriers which are preventing people claiming benefits from entering volunteering.

Volunteering development agency Volunteering England has hit out at the government for producing contradictory guidance for those on benefits interested in offering their time to the voluntary sector.

New guidance from the Department of Work and Pensions claims that lunch expenses are not a legitimate expense to be reimbursed to volunteers who are also benefit claimants. Volunteering England says this means those claiming welfare benefits will be unable to afford to volunteer, and that it contradicts both the long held understanding of permissible expenses and NHS rules on reimbursements which state that meal costs incurred during the course of voluntary activity are a legitimate expense.

The body says it also contravenes the Compact code of good practice for volunteering which says the government will “consult the sector so that proposed legislation of regulation, guidance and policies take account of the ways they may affect volunteers and volunteering activities.”

Volunteering England chief executive Christopher Spence said the organisation had already received a large number of complaints over the issue and had written to work and pensions secretary John Hutton to seek clarification.

“Volunteering England would be unable to support a position which runs counter to accepted good practice in volunteer management, as well as to the government’s expressed aim of opening up access to volunteering to disadvantaged groups,” Spence said.


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