If you have little or no work experience, it can be difficult to find suitable work. Work can seem daunting. Maybe you’ve not worked before, or have not been in work for a long time. Or perhaps being around new people is difficult for you. Whatever your reason, volunteering can help you to gain new skills and build your confidence.
Volunteering and your benefits
Will volunteering affect your benefits? Sometimes. You can volunteer and still get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) but there are rules about:
what counts as volunteering
if your volunteering counts as looking for work
how many hours you can volunteer for
To count as volunteering, what you’re doing needs to be:
for someone who is not a family member
done without a contract
To count as looking for work, it can help to show that:
your volunteering is likely to help you find a job
it’s reasonable that you’re not being paid (check with your work coach)
If the volunteer role shows you’re now able to do things that you could not do in your Work Capability Assessment or PIP assessment, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could decide to reduce your benefits.
Always get permission from your work coach before you start volunteering. Be:
specific about the kind of volunteering that you want to do
consistent when you’re talking about the activities that you can do
clear about how many hours you will be volunteering each week
Volunteering is a great way to get used to working with colleagues or talking with customers.
It can lead to friendships and help you to develop your social skills and enjoy life. This can help you to build the skills you might need for interviews, such as holding eye contact and answering questions.
If you’ve volunteered to get work experience, you can:
learn specific skills, like time management or working in a team
get references from your manager to help you apply for paid work
Volunteering is also a way to show that your skills are up to date. This could reassure an employer if you’ve not been working for a while.
Volunteering can provide a safe space. If you find somewhere you feel comfortable, it’ll be easier to practise things like communication skills and body language. It’s a good opportunity to:
learn from the people around you
become confident in different kinds of situations
understand what’s expected at work
Volunteering can mean more choice
There are some benefits to volunteering before going straight into paid work. You can:
choose the job and it can be something that you enjoy
work the hours you want (for example, a few hours or one day a week)
leave without it looking bad on your CV
find out what the job is like
What you're getting from volunteering
As well as being an important step towards employment, volunteering can help you to develop as a person. Ask yourself:
You may want to volunteer somewhere that makes you feel comfortable. Or, you may wish to volunteer in a placement that offers you a challenge. What’s important is that the role is right for you. Ask to:
talk to the people you might be working with
see the place you’ll be working
see the type of work you’ll be doing
Volunteering is your choice
You should be there because you want to be. If you feel that you are being taken advantage of, you should speak to your manager about what you feel comfortable doing. If that does not work, try speaking to someone more senior. You do not have to put up with being taken advantage of or bullied. You can always find a better volunteering opportunity somewhere else.
Some local organisations organise gardening and decorating projects. These can be perfect for learning practical skills.
Charity volunteering opportunities include retail jobs, fundraising at events and supporting others in the community. Volunteering for a charity can be satisfying, particularly if it’s your favourite charity or cause.
A programme for people who need support to move into work and who:
are between the ages of 16 to 24
have a statement of special educational needs (SEN) or an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan. They are run by colleges together with local businesses.
If you’re being paid to do an internship then you are a ‘worker’ or an ‘employee’. Workers and employees have more rights than volunteers.
Unpaid internships are just volunteering. This type of volunteering can be more formal. Having a more defined role in an organisation can give you the chance to learn specific skills. If you are doing the same work as paid employees, or are not given the opportunity to learn new skills, then you could be being taken advantage of.