Volunteering England concerned over potential tax rebates 31/03/08
Volunteering England has expressed concern over some of the recommendations in Lord Goldsmith’s report Citizenship: Our Common Bond, namely those concerning council tax rebates in return for volunteering.

Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general, published the results of his five-month review into citizenship back in March. Its recommendations were mainly based on actions which would, in theory, make for a more cohesive society including a new ‘national day’ to be established by 2012, which could be made into a public holiday, and a US style pledge of allegiance for school children.

It also made a number of proposals involving volunteering, which included a reduction in university fees for students who volunteer to take part in civic activities, and a clearer policy on volunteering for those claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance, which was welcomed by Volunteering England’s chief executive Justin Davis Smith.

“One of the problematic issues involves job seekers on benefits being incorrectly dissuaded from volunteering in public services such as hospitals, as the workers believe it is only possible to volunteer in charitable organisations,” he said. “To remedy this oversight, we would ask the DWP to develop a training programme for all its Job Centre employees so that they can give more accurate advice to claimants.”

The area of contention for Davis Smith was the idea of a council tax discount for people who complete volunteer work in the community. This, said Lord Goldsmith, could be earned by, for example, organising neighbourhood recycling projects, helping children learn to read in schools, or setting up a residents’ association.

Davis Smith said he was very concerned by the idea as: “This could create a hierarchy of altruism where certain volunteering is better recognised or financially rewarded more than others. It could also risk unintentionally creating a form of employment contract – along with the financial and legal responsibilities that incurs.”

Davis Smith also pointed out that a further proposal from Lord Goldsmith, to create a national recognition scheme for employers who support their staff to volunteer, already existed in the form of the Investing in Volunteers for Employers quality mark.

Davis Smith added: “Volunteering England strongly believes that the sector is more powerful when it pulls together with a common purpose and we call on government to ensure that any new initiatives tap into the expertise and experience of volunteering infrastructure bodies that have a proven track record in maximising the impact of volunteering within their communities.”
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