Suitable Activity - Voluntary Work


Voluntary work activity is an activity undertaken in an approved not-for-profit community organisation in a verified voluntary work position.

A voluntary work placement must:

  • benefit the job seeker and the community and offers no financial gain to the voluntary work host organisation,
  • provide the job seeker with the opportunity to gain skills which will directly improve the job seeker's employment prospects,
  • provide opportunities which will develop or enhance a job seeker's ability to work as part of a team, take directions from a supervisor, work independently, communicate effectively and improve motivation and dependability, and
  • not exceed 26 weeks duration, unless it is the best participation option in the circumstances, as determined by the employment services provider or if the job seeker is aged 55 or over (see below).

Unpaid work performed under a CSO and participation in clinical trials are NOT considered to be voluntary work.

Approval of voluntary work

Regardless of the circumstances in which it is undertaken voluntary work must:

  • occur without payment other than for out of pocket expenses, and
  • have a community focus, and
  • not be undertaken in the job seeker's own home, and
  • not primarily promote a particular religious or political view, and
  • not involve working for the job seeker's or a family member of the job seeker's own organisation, and
  • not involve violence towards people or damage to property, and
  • not undertake tasks which would normally be done by a paid employee, including a casual or part-time paid employee, and
  • not reduce hours usually worked by a paid employee or reduce customary overtime of an existing worker.

Voluntary work for job seekers 55 years & over

Under social security legislation, job seekers aged 55 years and over may choose to satisfy their mutual obligation requirements if they undertake at least 30 hours per fortnight of approved voluntary work, paid work (including self-employment) or a combination of the 2.

Where requirements are met through voluntary work:

  • DHS can give approval to the job seeker for the voluntary work, AND
  • DHS must formally approve the organisation for which the work is undertaken.

As part of the organisation approval process, DHS ensures that community organisations are:

  • 'not for profit' organisations. This can be verified through one of the following: articles of incorporation or certificate of incorporation and/or their constitution, being a registered member of the National/State/Regional Volunteer Centre, other verifiable documentation proving their 'not for profit' status, such as documentation providing that they are a charitable trust,
  • community based,
  • adequately insured. Organisations must have public liability and personal accident insurance. Verification of insurance may be requested.

In instances where job seekers aged 55 years and over have confirmed their engagement in voluntary work but have not yet commenced, the job seeker still has a requirement to participate in compulsory activities with their employment services provider until they commence the voluntary work.

Even though job seekers aged 55 years and over who are satisfying their requirements through undertaking community work or voluntary work do not have job search or other requirements, they must still be available for suitable paid work and must accept all referrals to job interviews. Failure to do so may result in payment being stopped or reduced for a period of time (3.1.13).

Voluntary work for job seekers under 55 years

Job seekers aged under 55 years can satisfy their annual activity requirement or otherwise use it to contribute towards satisfying their mutual obligation requirements by undertaking voluntary work IF an employment services provider determines that participation in such an activity would be beneficial to the job seeker's employment prospects (e.g. because involvement with the organisation and/or the type of work undertaken is likely to lead to paid employment). Providers should not approve voluntary work as an end in itself. The requirement must be included as a term of a Job Plan and should be combined with job search and other requirements as may be appropriate.

Voluntary work for job seekers with partial capacity to work

While voluntary work can meet the annual activity requirement for a person assessed as having a partial capacity to work, voluntary work is not considered suitable for the purposes of fully meeting a person's mutual obligation requirements to seek or undertake part-time paid work of at least 15 hours per week unless the person is aged 55 or over.

A person assessed as having a partial capacity to work should not participate in voluntary work if the work would:

  • involve hours that exceed their assessed capacity,
  • aggravate their injury, illness or disability,
  • place the job seeker at risk of abuse or neglect, OR
  • not provide appropriate support or facilities to take account of illness, disability or injury.

Voluntary work for job seekers who are principal carers

In some circumstances principal carers can satisfy their mutual obligation requirements by undertaking voluntary work either by itself or in combination with approved study and/or paid work for a combined total of at least 30 hours per fortnight.

Principal carers can only use voluntary work to fully meet their part-time mutual obligation requirements if the particular voluntary work is approved by an employment services provider, and providers can only approve voluntary work for a principal carer job seeker in these circumstances if ALL the following conditions are met, in addition to the approval requirements set out above:

  • the principal carer lives in a poor labour market, and
  • there are limited training opportunities locally available, and
  • there is a significant vocational aspect to the voluntary work, and
  • the organisation is an approved voluntary organisation under DHS approval conditions.

Examples of voluntary work with a significant vocational aspect:

  • library assistant,
  • charity shop sales assistant.

Examples of inappropriate voluntary work:

  • collecting money on the street for a charity organisation,
  • walking dogs for an animal shelter.

Principal carers who are participating in voluntary work by itself or in combination with other suitable activities to meet their mutual obligation requirements must remain connected to an employment services provider. They will be required to attend job interviews and accept any suitable paid work that fits around their caring responsibilities and any study included as a compulsory item in their Job Plan.

To fully meet their mutual obligation requirements through sufficient participation in voluntary work, the voluntary work must be entered as a compulsory item into the principal carer's Job Plan.

Where a principal carer is aged 55 years and over they can satisfy their requirements through undertaking voluntary work as outlined in 'Voluntary work for job seekers 55 years & over'.

Example 1: Daisy is a 35 year old principal carer who lives in a remote town in Western Australia. Daisy is currently studying a Certificate III in Teaching by correspondence. She advises her employment services provider that she would like to undertake voluntary work as a tutor at a local school in addition to her studies in order to meet her requirements. After confirming that the position does not involve tasks normally undertaken by a paid employee and considering Daisy's situation, the local labour market, that she is already studying to further her employment opportunities and that the voluntary work will enhance her teaching skills, her provider approves her voluntary work as part of her mutual obligation requirements. When entering voluntary work as a compulsory item in Daisy's Job Plan her provider must also add attending job interviews and accepting job offers as required. While participating in the voluntary work Daisy remains connected to her provider. Two months later Daisy's provider finds her a paid position as an assistant manager for a local hotel, as the work fits around her study and her caring responsibilities, Daisy is required to undertake the paid work in order to satisfy her requirements.

Example 2: Brett is a 39 year old principal carer who lives in Sydney. Brett wants to undertake voluntary work of 30 hours per fortnight to satisfy his requirements. He advises his employment services provider that he would like to undertake voluntary work collecting money for a well known charity organisation. Brett's provider conducts a review on the local labour market, training opportunities available and the vocational aspect to the voluntary work he proposes. His provider concludes that it is not appropriate to approve Brett's choice of voluntary work as Sydney has a large labour market, there are many training opportunities available and the voluntary work does not have a strong vocational focus.

Act reference: SSAct section 541(1AA) Persons who comply with Employment Pathway Plan, section 601(4A) Activity test, section 606 Newstart Employment Pathway Plan-terms, section 607 Newstart Employment Pathway Plans-principal carers, section 607A Newstart Employment Pathway Plans-people with partial capacity to work, section 607B Newstart Employment Pathway Plans-requirement to participate in an approved program of work, section 544B YA Employment Pathway Plans-terms

Policy reference: SS Guide Suitable Activity - Principal carer

Last reviewed: 1 July 2015