Call for Government Help On Cost of Volunteers
29 January 2007 at 10:04 am
The National Costs of Volunteering Taskforce has urged the Federal Government to take up its recommendations to try to curb the rising cost of volunteering as a matter of urgency.
The Taskforce, convened by Volunteering Australia, has outlined several options for a national scheme to reimburse volunteers’ out-of-pocket expenses.
Late last year, a Costs of Volunteering Survey found that 88% of volunteers faced annual out-of-pocket expenses averaging $693 each; and almost 10% of respondents said these costs had led to them either reduce or stop their volunteering in the last 12 months. (Pro Bono Australia Edition 25, 2006)
Sha Cordingley, CEO of Volunteering Australia said that a further 24% of volunteers were considering changing their volunteering and 80% of volunteers believed that increasing out-of-pocket costs is making it more difficult for people to volunteer.
Cordingley says it’s clear that volunteers don’t want to be paid and choose to give their time to make a difference in the community; but many face personal costs of around $700 a year for things like travel or uniforms, and these costs are beginning to impact on their participation.
However, she says volunteers cannot reasonably be expected to give their time and pay for the privilege; its time to recognise their unique contribution.
Chairman of the Taskforce, Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes, Director of the Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at QUT, says the Taskforce looked at several options for providing reimbursements either direct to volunteers or through their organisations.
He says the Taskforce hopes the Government will consider the options and work with it to bring in a simple and fair solution for the largest number of volunteers.
Professor McGregor-Lowndes says that while the details would need to be worked out, the Taskforce recommends that individual reimbursements are capped and criteria set for organisational eligibility.
The Taskforce report follows on the heels of a separate report released recently (Pro Bono Australia Edition 1), which found emergency management volunteers face annual out of pocket costs of $950 each.
Taskforce Report details:
Broad areas where volunteers incur costs:
– (petrol/vehicle/public transport),
– safety equipment and clothing (including uniforms and their maintenance), and
The Taskforce’s six options are divided into two categories: reimbursement to the volunteer through the organisation for which they work and personal reimbursement direct to the volunteer:
Organisational reimbursement options:
1. A grant process similar to the existing volunteer small equipment grant (VSEG) program through which organisations would apply for funding on the basis that they have reimbursed, or intend to reimburse, volunteer out-of-pocket expenses.
2. Government requirement for volunteer reimbursement budget in funding applications from not-for-profit organisations.
3. Tax credit to the not-for-profit organisation – this would most effectively be administered through the Goods & Services Tax (GST) system as an offset on the Business Activity Statement (BAS) given that most not-for-profit organizations are income tax exempt.
Personal reimbursement options:
4. A personal tax rebate.
5. A personal tax reduction.
6. A personal grant / claim process that the volunteer would apply for directly to the relevant government agency, for example, the Health Insurance Commission (i.e.: Medicare Offices) and provide evidence of relevant expenses.
Each option was considered against the principles of: equity, universality, simplicity for volunteers, simplicity for organisations, simplicity for government, transparency, in accordance with the Principles of Volunteering, positive impact on recruitment and retention of volunteering, cost and availability of new funding.
The taskforce also recommends criteria to ensure that expenses:
– are not already reimbursed
– are directly connected with the volunteer work as set down by the organisation working within agreed parameters)
– are not deemed to be personal expenses of the volunteer (i.e: the volunteer has incurred the expense only as a result of their volunteering activity).
The taskforce recommends that for all options that deductible gift recipient (DGR) status be used in the first instance as the criteria by which organisations would qualify themselves or their volunteers for reimbursements.
Additionally, the taskforce recommends that the amount of reimbursement per volunteer per year be capped at a nominal amount, for example, $300.
The Taskforce says is not in a position to provide a costing for any of these proposals nor does it identify a preferred option. It does however strongly recommend that government considers all options carefully and works with the Taskforce to implement some form of assistance to volunteers to ensure that Australia does not experience a significant downturn in volunteer involvement.