Volunteers succeed in battle for lunch money

The Department for Work and Pensions has been pressured into a U-turn over the issue of lunch expenses for volunteers claiming benefits.

There was an outcry from the sector when the DWP published A Guide to Volunteering While on Benefits, which stated that lunches should not be included in expenses because income support and jobseeker's allowance "cover the cost of basic needs" (Third Sector, 28 June).

Volunteering England spearheaded a campaign to persuade the department to drop the new rule. Volunteers from charities supporting the campaign were preparing to bombard work and pensions secretary John Hutton with lunch receipts from the week of 14-21 August.

But before this began, the department released a statement saying the new rule would be dropped.

"We do not want a situation in which people are put off from volunteering because they cannot afford to buy something to eat," said Hutton. "We will be working closely with charities to implement the changes as quickly as possible."

The move was welcomed by third sector minister Ed Miliband. But Andy Forster, head of policy at Volunteering England, urged caution.

"The change is not going to happen overnight," he said. "The department said it will take a few weeks to 'iron out its full implications'. So, technically, volunteers still can't claim lunch expenses."

Kate Bowgett, volunteer development manager at OSW, a London-based charity for the homeless, said the episode could have been avoided.

"It happened because the DWP didn't talk to the sector first," she said.

"It claimed that it had always been the case that volunteers could not claim back on lunches, but that's not something I have ever heard of."

- See Editorial, page 22.

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