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6.3.32 Voluntary Work and its Impact on Incapacity Payments

The Repatriation Commission has a general policy approach, for the purposes of the VEA,  that voluntary work does not have the same pressure or stress inherent in paid employment and should not on its own connote a person's capacity to undertake paid work in relation to eligibility for the Special Rate (T&PI) pension.  This does not give an absolute guarantee that voluntary work will never affect a Special Rate (T&PI) pension and it is always dependent on the individual circumstances of the person and the work they are engaged in.

The effect of voluntary work on SRCA and MRCA payments will differ from that of the VEA because of the focus both Acts have on rehabilitation.  The impact of voluntary work needs to be considered alongside a member or former member's capacity to return to work or to undertake rehabilitation.

There is no mention of voluntary work in the MRCA.  The legislation only discusses remunerative work.

For policy purposes voluntary work is 'unpaid work for a recognised community or welfare organisation'.  Unpaid work for family, friends, or a business enterprise formed for the purpose of making a financial profit is not classified as voluntary work.

Remunerative work is 'work of a nature capable of attracting remuneration'.

A distinction can be made between the rights and responsibilities that accrue when undertaking remunerative employment and the lack of them with voluntary work.  Voluntary work is usually performed at a time, place and pace that suits the volunteer which is not the case for paid employment.

Each case needs to be assessed on its individual circumstances.  Although voluntary work normally does not carry the same pressures and expectations as paid employment, it may in some circumstances, amongst other factors, indicate a person's ability to return to paid employment. However, a person undertaking voluntary work in and of itself does not indicate an ability to undertake remunerative work.   An incapacity delegate should not, in isolation, determine that a person undertaking voluntary work is capable of an ability to earn for those same hours/work as if it were a paid position.  Ultimately, each case should be assessed on its own merits based on sound medical opinion and/or a rehabilitation process.

All incapacity payees must be regularly reviewed by a medical specialist and the frequency of that review depends on the payee's level of incapacity. If a payee is undertaking voluntary work it will not generally trigger a review of their incapacity payments outside the regular review period except in exceptional circumstances. It must be the accepted condition(s) which form the basis for the person's inability to undertake remunerative work.

A payees incapacity payments may vary if their ability to earn changes based on sound medical opinion, a rehabilitation program and/or other factors depending on the individual case. If a person is undertaking voluntary work it may form part of a person's rehabilitation program and may be one of the factors considered overall in the rehabilitation assessment process.

Engaging in voluntary work can have significant medical/social rehabilitation advantages for claimants.  This policy encourages claimants to undertake some voluntary activity that facilitates or assists in recovery or is a step towards returning to paid employment, or is undertaken where a claimant is unable to undertake or return to paid employment.