Bill could lift restrictions on volunteers' expenses

Voluntary workers may soon be entitled to claim travel and childcare expenses without affecting their employment status.

The House of Lords will later this week debate an amendment to the Employment Bill which, if passed, will remove the current restriction on voluntary workers’ expenses. At present, organisations can reimburse costs incurred while working, but not additional costs such as travel to work.

A voluntary worker receiving benefits beyond the needs of the organisation may be classed as a worker. This would make them eligible for the national minimum wage, and could potentially leading to claims for backdated payment.

Minister for Employment Relations, Pat McFadden, said the amendment had been tabled to remove a barrier to taking part in voluntary work. Until now, said McFadden, organisations have been afraid to refund additional expenses for voluntary workers in case doing so would change the nature of the employment relationship.

The proposed amendment follows a consultation conducted by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform into the National Minimum Wage Act 1998.

Phil Hope, Minister for the Third Sector, said: "We want to be sure that voluntary workers are not out of pocket as a result of volunteering, while also minimising the chances of low paying jobs emerging. Voluntary workers do not get paid, but they still incur expenses as a result of their work, and this new legislation will allow those expenses to be paid without any problems."

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