Jobseekers have been volunteering at a Poundland shop after being told by job centre staff that they were likely to lose their Jobseeker’s Allowance if they did not do voluntary work, according to a local volunteer centre.
Heather Allen, manager of Volunteer Centre Dacorum in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, said she had encountered "demotivated" volunteers who had been doing voluntary only work because staff at the local job centre had "strongly suggested" to them that they would lose their entitlement to benefits otherwise.
She said a new leaflet from the Department for Work and Pensions, which included private sector companies on a list of places where volunteering could take place, had led job centre staff to arrange volunteering placements at the local Poundland shop.
"The voluntary work being done by these people is mainly stacking shelves," she said. "At best, that is work experience rather than volunteering. At worst, it is exploitation. When these unemployed people appear at our door, they are demotivated and they are volunteering only because they are afraid of losing their benefits."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said volunteering was not mandatory and it was possible that the department’s guidance had been misinterpreted.
She said advisers from the Prince’s Trust would be based in some job centres from next month to "point people in the direction of volunteering opportunities".