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Volunteer expenses

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The material presented in this factsheet is intended to sound a note of caution. Recent legislation and new interpretations of older statutes has made the once reasonably simple relationship between voluntary organisations and volunteers far more complex. But at the same time CASH would like to stress that while new and challenging issues are arising in the world of volunteering, they are doing so against the backdrop of increasing numbers of people giving their time for free to good causes each year. The voluntary principle has never been stronger.

By looking at the issue of volunteer expenses from both the volunteer’s point of view and the voluntary sector manager’s point of view, we hope to highlight where possible conflicts might arise and how problems for both voluntary organisations and volunteers might be avoided.

People often undertake voluntary work as a form of work experience while receiving state benefits. This page focuses on the volunteer’s view, with an emphasis on people who fall into this category.

The manager’s view focuses on possible legal problems arising from volunteers being seen as employees in the eyes of the law and possible problems arising from undeclared taxable income.

Volunteer’s view

So you’ve decided to volunteer. You know that voluntary work is work given freely and by choice, but you want to make sure that you won’t be out of pocket as a result of that work. So what are the rules about tax allowances; claiming expenses incurred in the course of your voluntary work. And what about volunteering while claiming state benefits?

Jobseeker’s allowance | Internal guidelines written for employment services staff state that there are now no limitations on the number of hours a jobseeker may volunteer, provided you remain available for paid employment and actively seeking it. What’s more, employment services now recognise that voluntary work can aid your jobsearch by providing easier access to information on relevant job opportunities and possible access to job search facilities such as word processing. Your voluntary work should therefore be supported by employment services, as long as you continue to actively seek paid work. Remember though, you should inform the employment service that you are undertaking voluntary work.

Claiming expenses | It’s always good practice to reach an agreement with your organisation concerning what you can claim money for – before you spend any money!

Keep all your receipts and ensure that the organisation with whom you’re volunteering reimburses your expenses against those receipts. If you are volunteering from home and incur expenses – like phone calls – take a photocopy of each phone bill and use it when claiming reimbursement. This will ensure that you are not deemed to be in receipt of cash payments for work undertaken.

If you are offered a flat rate allowance for volunteering, it’s worth asking the organisation if they’ll consider reviewing their practice. An allowance – of whatever amount – constitutes a wage as far as the Inland Revenue and the benefits agency are concerned and this carries implications for your tax and benefits.

More information for volunteers concerned about claiming expenses can be obtained from your local volunteer bureau/volunteer development agency.

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Last updated: Mon, Mar 31 2008 - 04:39:05 PM

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