11 August 2006

In a rapid policy U-turn, the DWP has announced that the law is to be changed to allow claimants who volunteer to be reimbursed for the cost of lunch. However, until the change is actually implemented, claimants who accept expense payments for lunch continue to run the risk of losing their benefits.

In a previous article, DWP threatens volunteers who lunch (04.07.06) we revealed that a recent DWP publication intended to encourage claimants to volunteer had warned them that they could lose their benefits unless they paid for their own lunch. This ruling by the DWP broke a compact between the government and the voluntary sector and went against guidance that had been issued to claimants by voluntary organisations for many years. Now however, John Hutton, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has decided that the law is to be changed so that meals will be treated as an expense which volunteers can claim back.

Announcing the changes, John Hutton said:

"This simplification of the rules is to ensure that volunteers are not penalised for doing the right thing. We do not want a situation where individuals are put off from volunteering because they can not afford to buy something to eat.

"We will be working closely with charities and volunteering organisations over the coming weeks and months to implement the changes quickly and smoothly as possible."

Benefits and Work welcomes the announcement, although we do think an apology that this situation arose in the first place would have been more appropriate than the dubious claim in the DWP press release that 'Unlike childcare costs and special clothing, meal time costs have never been an expense that could be disregarded for benefits purposes when an individual is volunteering.'

However, until changes in the law are actually introduced claimants would be well advised to continue to decline any offer of payment for lunch.


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