Many home educators arrange events, clubs and groups to support their children’s learning within the home education community.
If you home educate and volunteer to organise trips and education sessions for home educators in your community, you are in fact ‘doing voluntary work’ even if that’s not how you think of it.
You are perfectly entitled to do voluntary work while you are on benefits but there are a couple of things you need to bear in mind. (The third aspect to volunteering while on benefits which I am not covering at all here is where you are working without getting paid but anyone else doing the job would in fact be paid.)
The GOV.UK website is clear that you can volunteer and claim benefits IF the only money you get from volunteering is to cover expenses AND where you continue to meet the conditions of the benefit you get.
The first thing is whether you are receiving a state benefit because you have committed a minimum number of hours to a particular activity such as looking for work or caring for another person.
Means Tested Benefits
The second thing is where the state benefit is means-tested, ie where the amount you get goes down if you have more money coming in, unless you can show good reason why this shouldn’t happen. You need to think about how you can prove it is all legitimate expenses.
The GOV.UK web page on Jobseeker’s Allowance specifically says that volunteering won’t normally affect your JSA but you should report it before you start.
It is understandable that you may have overlooked this if you were only thinking of ‘volunteering’ in terms of eg working in a charity shop for so many hours a week. However, as soon you realise it may apply to you it is better to put the record straight.
It doesn’t matter if you do voluntary work while you are on Carer’s Allowance, as long as you still provide care for the relevant 35 hours. To be on the safe side you may want to report any voluntary work as ‘a change in circumstances.’
If you google any combination of voluntary work + name of benefit you will probably come across this pdf.
Various websites such as Citizens Advice (last updated in 2013 ) simply quote from the withdrawn advice eg by saying ‘you can continue to get Housing Benefit if you follow the basic rules for volunteering.‘ [LINK]
As a quick rule, if you are looking at information which refers to ‘social security‘ then it is probably out of date.
The current GOV.UK pages on Housing Benefit don’t mention voluntary work, but this absolutely doesn’t mean it’s not relevant to your claim.
Housing Benefit is a payment towards the rent for people on a low income including low paid jobs and self-employment with low earnings. HB is means-tested ie the more you earn, the less HB you will get. HB is administered by the local council and if you are claiming while you are earning, the amount of HB you get will be based on what you told the council you expected to earn. You are then supposed to tell the council straightaway if there are any changes so they can make prompt adjustments to your HB as necessary.
The more regular and predictable your income, the more straightforward your HB claim. The situation is obviously more complicated for self-employed people claiming HB, because earnings will fluctuate. If you have already been claiming HB, but then start being self-employed, you will need to make a fresh HB claim and you may be required to show historic bank statements backing up what you are saying about your expected earnings.
If you are self-employed with an HB claim and you told the council you expected your earnings to be low, the council may ask you at regular intervals how your actual earnings compare to your projected earnings, and ask you to submit bank statements going quite a way back for them to check.
If there is clearly more money going in and out than you have previously said, especially with any regular payments, it will look like you are under-declaring your earnings and your Housing Benefit could be stopped completely pending the outcome of an investigation.
As the organiser you are likely to be collecting money from individual parents and then making payments for room hire or materials or whatever. If you are just doing this off your own initiative, you probably haven’t got a separate bank account and you might just be keeping details in your head or scribbled down somewhere about who still needs to pay. Alternatively, people might ask if they can send you money by Paypal if you need it before you next expect to see them. If you have to pay upfront for a term, you are probably asking other parents to pay you all in one go rather than in instalments.
Breaking Even Or Coming Out Ahead?
Maybe when you are working out the per person cost you round it up a bit just to be on the safe side, and it turns out there is enough in the kitty for you to reimburse yourself for phone calls or a previous trip where you were out of pocket, or to subsidise your own child’s place.
In such scenarios, the strict legal position is that you are receiving money in the course of your voluntary work even if you feel all the money goes back out again one way or another or that you haven’t really made a penny from it. This is classed as ‘benefit in kind‘ where the monetary value can be calculated, in the same way as happens with job perks such as a company car.
Anyone claiming means-tested benefit – including Housing Benefit as outlined above – could very well be asked to account for any bonus income, and if they haven’t been keeping adequate records, they might struggle to prove it wasn’t a case of ‘being paid’ or receiving ‘benefit in kind’.
If you haven’t been keeping detailed records up till now, it is advisable to reconstruct as much as you possibly can, including actual receipts wherever possible plus petty cash slips etc (which you can print off from the internet), to make sure you have nothing to worry about if your claim is investigated.