What is the Voluntary and Community Sector?

A wide range of organisations and groups make up the voluntary and community sector (often referred to as the VCS). There is no universally accepted definition for the organisations that form part of the sector, but one often used is that they are:

  • Independent of government and constitutionally self-governing, usually with an unpaid voluntary management committee (at least half)
  • Value-driven – they exist for the good of the community, to promote social, environmental or cultural objectives in order to benefit society as a whole, or particular groups within it
  • Not run for financial gain – they re-invest any surpluses to further the ‘good’ they create for the community.

The sorts of groups that make up the sector includes charities (registered and unregistered), community groups, community interest companies, friendly societies, social clubs, many sports clubs, churches and other faith groups, and voluntary organisations.


This is a useful model to adopt where it is important that a number of individuals or organisations have rights in relation to the organisation. It is sometimes used by community organisations who wish to involve local individuals and organisations and wish to adopt a democratic structure. The members elect a small number from amongst themselves to be the committee/board/trustees.

Can I volunteer if I claim benefits?

Genuine unpaid volunteering should not affect any state benefits you receive.

If you’re on benefits, it is important that you don’t accept any payments other than having your expenses repaid at the exact cost. For example, if your bus fare is £3.70 you can accept £3.70. It can lead to problems for you and the organisation if your reimbursement is rounded up to £4.00.

You can volunteer for as many hours as you like if you receive benefits, as long you continue to meet the conditions of the benefit you get, including being able to attend a job interview with two days’ notice or starting work within a week.

Volunteering is viewed as helpful in gaining paid employment and is also therapeutic when recovering from an illness or managing a long-term condition. It is always advisable to keep in touch with the Job Centre about your volunteering so that they know you are keeping to the rules and are aware of your situation.

For more information take a look at the official government guidance on volunteering.

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