Lunch expenses row is resolved

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that, as of 9 October, volunteers claiming benefits will no longer be penalised if they receive lunch expenses from their charities.

The DWP's announcement marks the end of a three-month dispute about the rights of volunteers claiming income support or jobseeker's allowance.

Charities have been faced with the conundrum of whether or not to pay lunch costs since June, when the DWP published its new Guide to Volunteering While on Benefits, which stated that volunteers who are claiming benefits should not be reimbursed (Third Sector, 28 June).

The move comes in the wake of recent complaints from charities that the DWP's August U-turn on the issue had still not been implemented six weeks later (Third Sector, 27 September).

A spokesman for the DWP said the guide would be reprinted to take the change into account, but that reimbursements would not be back-dated.

Mark Restall, head of communications at Volunteering England, claimed that the whole situation could have been avoided. "Although the DWP is calling it a new rule, it's a U-turn," he said. "We could have pointed to all kinds of documents going back many years that said volunteers on benefits should be reimbursed. If this had gone on much longer, I think a lot of people would have ceased to volunteer."

There was an outcry from the sector in June when the Guide to Volunteering was released because there had been no prior consultation and charities said that the publication contradicted all previous guidance.

Volunteering England led a campaign to persuade the DWP to reconsider and asked volunteers to send all their lunch receipts to work and pensions secretary John Hutton during the week of 14 to 21 August. Just before the planned protest, however, the department released a statement saying the new rule would be dropped.

TIMELINE

28 June: Third Sector reports that volunteers on benefits can no longer claim lunch expenses

16 August: Plans to bombard the DWP with lunch receipts halted after the department says the rule will be dropped

27 September: CSV claims the change still hasn't been implemented

9 October: The change finally takes effect.

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