Reimbursing Volunteers for Expenses: What You Need to Know

By Linda RoperNovember 29, 2021

If you run a charity or frequently work with volunteers within the UK, you no doubt recognise just how important their assistance is to your organisation. After all, these people are trading their valuable time to your worthy cause without the need for a wage.

Volunteers picking garbage plastic bottles.

As a result, you may find yourself wondering: can volunteers claim expenses? And if so, what can they claim? To clear up this confusion, we’ve written this helpful guide about reimbursing volunteers for expenses.

Table of Contents

Can Volunteers Claim Expenses?

The answer to your first question is yes, volunteers can claim certain expenses within the UK. This is because anyone offering their time freely to an organisation shouldn’t be out-of-pocket. In saying this, however, it’s vital that only genuine out-of-pocket expenses are paid.

What Expenses Can be Claimed?

According to the UK government, several volunteer expenses should be reimbursed by organisations. These expenses must be necessary for volunteering or incurred as a part of the volunteering work.

Infographic shows a list of expenses volunteers can be reimbursed for while caring out their charity work

These include:

  • Travel expenses incurred travelling to or from the location of volunteer work, or whilst volunteering. To maintain costs, organisations might consider asking volunteers to travel via public transport or using their own vehicle (i.e., not in more expensive transport such as taxis, where possible). If using their own vehicle, the HMRC has approved mileage and fuel allowances that organisations must take into account.

  • Food or beverage purchased for consumption during volunteering. This is usually applicable if the volunteer works 4 hours, or more, in a day.

  • Cost of related phone calls, stationery, postage, etc. if applicable.

  • Cost of training or education if necessary for the role.

  • Cost of protective equipment or clothing if required.

  • Expenses incurred for the care of dependents while volunteering, such as children, disabled adults, or the elderly. Understandably, not all organisations will have the funds to do this.

The Disadvantages of Not Reimbursing Volunteers for Expenses

It’s important to point out that it’s not a legal obligation to reimburse volunteer expenses, particularly as some non-profit or charity organisations simply aren’t in the financial position to do so. However, doing your part to ensure volunteers don’t incur out-of-pocket expenses while assisting you can go a long way in promoting equal opportunity and morale amongst your volunteers. Without the tax-free reimbursement of these expenses, people on a low income may be discouraged from volunteering with your organisation. Ideally, you should aim to reduce such barriers, thus encouraging greater diversity among those who volunteer for your special cause.

What to Avoid When Reimbursing Volunteers for Expenses

Organisations must be sure to only reimburse out-of-pocket expenses, and should only do so with evidence from receipts, bus tickets, invoices, etc. If a volunteer gets any other payment, reward, or benefit, they may be classed as an employee or worker, rather than a volunteer. In this scenario, a volunteer would then become eligible for minimum wage under employment legislation.

As a result, organisations should avoid giving volunteers ‘pocket money’ not associated with out-of-pocket expenses, as well as seasonal fees, lump sums, or free items in exchange for their work.

How to Make Claiming Expenses Easier

Some volunteers may feel awkward to ask about your expense reimbursement procedures, so try to be upfront about this process from the get-go. To avoid potential financial hardship for volunteers, it’s advised that you reimburse their expenses in their preferred method of payment (i.e., cash or bank transfer) as soon as they are claimed.

Finally, having an easy-to-use expense management system is highly recommended. ExpenseIn, for example, brings everything you need to create, approve, and report on expenses into one easy-to-use package. Not only can the software automatically enforce your organisation’s volunteer expenses policy, but it also allows volunteers to scan and upload their receipts on-the-go. Furthermore, organisations can use ExpenseIn to view claims, check attached receipts, and approve expenses in just minutes.

Young Enterprise testimonialFor more guidance on charity accounting, use our comprehensive guide to charity reporting and annual accounts.