Charity Commission asks government to allow unemployed to volunteer more reliably

The regulator is concerned that requirements placed on those claiming Jobseeker's Allowance can make it difficult for them to commit to regular volunteering

Charity Commission
Charity Commission

- This article was corrected on 16 October 2015; please see final paragraph

The Charity Commission is in talks with the Department for Work and Pensions about allowing people who claim Jobseeker’s Allowance to take up charity volunteering and trustee roles more reliably without losing their benefits.

At the All Party Parliamentary Group for Civil Society and Volunteering meeting in Westminster yesterday, the Charity Commission also reiterated that it would require primary legislation to allow it to charge charities for its services.

Currently, people who claim unemployment benefit can volunteer but must be available to begin work or attend jobseeker meetings at short notice or face benefit sanctions. This can make it more difficult for them to reliably commit to regular volunteering, according to the commission.

William Shawcross, chair of the regulator, told delegates at the meeting yesterday that the regulator was in talks to see what could be done to get more people involved in the voluntary sector while they were job hunting.

He told Third Sector: "We are talking to them and we will carry on talking to them."

But he said he was unable to give any more detail about the discussions.

The panel at the meeting included Shawcross, Paula Sussex, chief executive of the commission, Kenneth Dibble, the commission’s chief legal adviser, and David Robb, chief executive of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator

It called on Chloe Stables, external relations manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, to explain what the NCVO was doing to help promote volunteering and trusteeship among jobseekers.

Stables said: "We are working with the DWP and various job centres to pilot various programmes to encourage young people who are coming into contact with job centres to take up volunteering opportunities.

"But I think that’s still very much in the pilot stage and we have struggled to make a case to government that this should be rolled out on a national stage. But there clearly is a case for it, and some job centres are better than others at signposting people towards volunteering."

The panel also fielded questions on what steps would be needed to allow the Charity Commission to charge charities for its services, something Shawcross told the commission’s annual meeting last month was inevitable.

In reply, Dibble reiterated comments made in 2012 by Sam Younger, the regulator’s former chief executive, that the measure would be likely to require primary legislation.

Dibble also said the regulator would need to consider issues such as people being put off applying if a charge for registration was introduced.

The commission would not be looking to attach the legislation to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill currently before parliament, he said, because the regulator needed time to consult the sector.

When asked whether measures to charge charities for regulation would go ahead if they were overwhelmingly rejected by the consultation, Shawcross replied: "We’ll get to that – I hope we won’t, but if we do we’ll consult even further."

Robb confirmed neither the Scottish parliament nor the OCSR were exploring the possibility of charities directly funding the regulator in Scotland.

- The story originally said that people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance must not be involved in any activity, such as part-time work, training or volunteering, that takes up more than 16 hours of their time and prevents them from looking for a job.

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