FCCA: Obstacles to voluntary work are largely imaginary, but there is room for improvement

2 December 2014 (updated 27.2.2018)

Today, the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) published a report funded by Sitra, The Finnish Innovation Fund, on opportunities for and obstacles to voluntary work. Although the report points out that a good basis exists for such work, there is still room for improvement. Among other measures, the report recommends a set of common practices, the creation of guidelines laying down the ground rules for voluntary work, and the simplification of tax laws. In addition, there should be greater recognition and awareness of the importance of voluntary work in all of the public administration branches concerned.

The report found that at least some of the obstacles to voluntary work highlighted in public discussions have been imaginary. For example, voluntary work does not hamper the efficiency of the markets. “In fact, we have the opposite situation. Voluntary work is an important source of wellbeing and a natural part of a well-functioning economy,” says Juhani Jokinen, Director General of the FCCA. “It is the task of decision-makers and public authorities to ensure that the regulative environment and other institutional factors do not create obstacles to such activity.”

In the interviews conducted for the report, tax laws, which are regarded as open to interpretation and sources of uncertainty, emerged as a particular drawback. In addition, interviewees expressed a wish for closer cooperation between municipalities and parties organising voluntary work. At the very least, there appears to be a need among the smallest organisers of voluntary work, or those just getting started, for clear practices and a guide on various grey areas. The report also recommends that opportunities for voluntary work and existing good practices should be more actively communicated in various contexts.

Mirjami Laitinen, a Senior Adviser at Sitra and a member of the steering group for the report project, regards the clarification of tax law as important with regard to issues such as the payment of travel costs and other expenses to voluntary workers. Broadening the definition of tax-free expenses would simplify practices and promote the participation in voluntary work of people on low incomes in particular.

In addition, organisations other than those belonging to the charity sector should be eligible to pay tax-exempt compensation for expenses, in order to create more room for voluntary work within organisations such as social firms and social enterprises. Unemployment security legislation should be clarified to ensure that unemployed benefit entitlements are not endangered by participation in voluntary work.

“The legislation on voluntary work should also be brought together into a single entity, under the remit of a single ministry. This would enable the long-term development of voluntary work to the overall benefit of society,” states Tuomo Melin, Chairperson of the steering group and Senior Adviser at Sitra. In 2015, Sitra will publish a guide in support of voluntary sector organisations and explore other means of disseminating good voluntary work practices.

The FCCA report was published today at a joint seminar organised in Tampere by the FCCA, Sitra and the City of Tampere. The Open the doors to voluntary work seminar explored the role of voluntary work in maintaining the health, safety and activeness of elderly people in particular.

See the FCCA report (in Finnish)