Back-to-work scheme breached laws, says Court of Appeal

 

Cait Reilly and her lawyer, Tessa Gregory, speak outside court

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The government's back-to-work schemes have suffered a setback after Appeal Court judges agreed with a university graduate's claim that unpaid schemes were legally flawed.

Cait Reilly, 24, claimed that requiring her to work for nothing at a Poundland store breached laws on forced labour.

Judges quashed the regulations underpinning the work schemes.

The government has now brought in new rules allowing these unpaid schemes to continue while it appeals.

The judges' decision could effectively prevent the government continuing with the programme in its current form.

However, ministers at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) brought in new, more precise regulations on Tuesday evening to allow it to require jobseekers to take part in these schemes, which are being trialled for young people in London and Derbyshire.

"These new regulations mean there will be no break in the support we're able to offer jobseekers, and we continue to have the power to remove benefits from those who aren't serious about getting into work," a DWP spokesman said.

The government is seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Regardless, the decision will be seen as a setback for the DWP's flagship back-to-work schemes.

Benefit withdrawal

Miss Reilly, a University of Birmingham geology graduate, and 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver Jamie Wilson, from Nottingham, both succeeded in their claims that the unpaid schemes were legally flawed. This was because the regulations behind the schemes did not comply with the Act of Parliament that gave the DWP the power to introduce the programme.

They had lost their original case, but part of this decision has now been reversed by the Appeal Court.

Miss Reilly said that in November 2011 she had to leave her voluntary work at a local museum and work unpaid at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham, under a scheme known as the "sector-based work academy".

She was told that if she did not carry out the work placement - which, she said, involved stacking shelves and cleaning floors - she would lose her Jobseeker's Allowance.

Mr Wilson was told that his Jobseeker's Allowance would be stopped after he refused to take part in the Community Action Programme, which his lawyers said would have involved him working unpaid for 30 hours per week for six months.

Solicitor Tessa Gregory, of Public Interest Lawyers, which represented the duo, said: "This judgment sends Iain Duncan Smith back to the drawing board to make fresh regulations which are fair and comply with the court's ruling.

"Until that time, nobody can be lawfully forced to participate in schemes affected such as the Work Programme and the Community Action Programme.

Employment minister defends law breaching back-to-work schemes

"All of those who have been stripped of their benefits have a right to claim the money back that has been unlawfully taken away from them."

This could not happen until the end of the legal process. The solicitor said she was confident this case would ultimately be won, but the government said there would be no compensation.

"We have no intention of giving back money to anyone who has had their benefits removed because they refused to take getting into work seriously. We are currently considering a range of options to ensure this does not happen," said a spokesman for the DWP.

The government also pointed out that the Appeal Court judges backed the High Court's view that requiring jobseekers to participate in the scheme did not breach their human rights.

It said that it would bring new regulations forward straight away, allowing these schemes to continue.

"The court has backed our right to require people to take part in programmes which will help get them into work. It is ridiculous to say this is forced labour. This ruling ensures we can continue with these important schemes," said Employment Minister Mark Hoban.

Start Quote

Cait Reilly

Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time as the experience did not help me get a job”

End Quote Cait Reilly

"We are, however, disappointed and surprised at the court's decision on our regulations. There needed to be flexibility, so we could give people the right support to meet their needs and get them into a job. We do not agree with the court's judgement and are seeking permission to appeal, but new regulations will be tabled to avoid any uncertainty.

"Ultimately, the judgement confirms that it is right that we expect people to take getting into work seriously if they want to claim benefits."

'Rethink needed'

Miss Reilly said she was delighted with the ruling, claiming that making her give up her voluntary work and sending her to Poundland was wrong.

"Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time, as the experience did not help me get a job," she said.

"I was not given any training and I was left with no time to do my voluntary work or search for other jobs.

"The only beneficiary was Poundland, a multimillion-pound company. Later I found out that I should never have been told the placement was compulsory.

"I don't think I am above working in shops like Poundland. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working."

She said she hoped the government would "rethink" how it tackled long-term unemployment.

"I agree we need to get people back to work, but the best way of doing that is by helping them, not punishing them."

A number of union leaders and campaigners called on the government to ditch schemes requiring people to work for no pay or lose benefits.

Nicola Smith, of the TUC, said this was a good time to take a step back and look again at mandatory back-to-work schemes.

Tom Walker, employment law partner at law firm Manches, said: "This judgment upholds what is perhaps the key tenet of employment, namely the 'work wage bargain'.

"If someone gives their labour to a company, they should be paid for it. However well intentioned a workplace scheme may be, it is very dangerous to introduce compulsory unpaid labour into the UK employment market."

Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said the court ruled the regulations were not clear or specific enough.

But she also suggested that the government should look at why Miss Reilly was sent to a retailer to do a work placement when she was already doing voluntary work in a museum - the kind of activity that this scheme was aimed at encouraging.

 

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  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 951.

    To Miss Reilly eternal credit she has found part time employment in a supermarket. Surely this means here placement at poundland was in some ways beneficial in her gaining that employment.
    So why did she and/or her solicitors then carry on with the court case and appeal when originally losing the case at cost to the tax payer?

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 950.

    @9 "It's not unpaid work - they are receiving a job seekers allowance and should have to work for it."

    Yes, but why should a for-profit company like Poundland benefit from free labour when they are not providing anything in return (i.e. useful training / qualifications)?

  • rate this
    -14

    Comment number 949.

    What's this Bull about entitlement to minimum wage. Plenty of businessmen out there taking a salary lower than min wage and many self employed have done for years. I know a number of small businesses that wouldn't survive if the owner paid themselves min wage. in many the staff don't have a clue about the sacrifice being made. Those on benefits should work to make themselves less of a burden.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 948.

    Unlawful. End of.... But no whats this? More taxpayers money to be spent to attempt to get this scheme to work? In order to save money? Oh you couldnt make it up

  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 947.

    This individuals' attitude is typical of the unemployed......... what me? stacking shelves? but I have a degree in Beckham don't you know?

    Regardless of the fact it could lead to an actual job, stacking shelves was too much like hard work..... looking at rocks in a museum was much easier and made far better conversation.

    The workshy should be forced to work regardless of education or status.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 946.

    Whilst I disagree with the scheme its not slavery as some people are saying, you are not owned by anyone, if you dont do the work you dont get benefits still wrong in my eyes but to call it slavery is very distasteful to me.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 945.

    and suddenly over the top of each unemployment centre appear's ominous Iron railings with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" made by one of the Unemployed on a back to work scheme in an foundry. The black Iron frame is thicker than the skeleton of the unemployed person who made it but who cares as long as those lazy thievin' B's work (Ironey and sarcasm in one sentence)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 944.

    When I want to change job, I find the time to complete CVs and application forms during evenings and weekends. For interviews I use holidays, flexi time or "have a dentist / doctor's appointment".

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 943.

    There are business's on here who say it helped them take on people, there are numerous reports from people on the BBC who clearly state that having sat at home they were glad to get back into a working routine. The programs proven to help people get back into work also reported on the BBC. It doesnt say how many hours at the museum or what she did and she got a job doing what her experience was

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 942.

    They should work for the community they live in-keeping the streets clean&free of graffiti,assisting the elderly,looking after recreational areas etc.They will learn new&employable skills,give them respect from the community&hopefully make them feel proud they are doing something good&worthwile. Not slave labour for private companies

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 941.

    It does seem ridiculous that someone can be forced to leave one form of unpaid employment to join another, but at the same timere are thousands of people out there who make no effort to gain employment who could do with some forced labour.

  • Comment number 940.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 939.

    Why does anyone think that working for free is against the law... Well it is as the use of SLAVE labour was abolished centuries ago. Well done to them both for sticking to their rights as humans not to be used and abused by this so called govenment

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 938.

    why do the hardworking people have to pay for the laziness of others??? if you are healthy, fit to work and claiming benefits you should work for the money you're getting- it is coming out from our taxes, from the wages of people who work hard and get no support from the government!

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 937.

    To call it slavery does a great disservice to all those people in the world making our cheap consumer goods, some people don't realise how lucky they are.

  • rate this
    +146

    Comment number 936.

    Compulsory work programme? I have no issues with this. However, there is a minimum wage for a reason - either pay it (government or employer) or the programme must be voluntary.

    The scheme as it stands is clearly flawed; compulsory work for anything less than minimum wage is illegal. This is something which should be obvious to anyone worthy of holding a ministerial post.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 935.

    And this is what disabled people are doing as well after they have been miraculously cured by an ATOS medical.
    Then when it makes their condition worse and they can no longer carry out the work placement, no money and a deterioration in their condition!!
    The line from Scrooge comes to mind:
    'If they would rather die,' said Scrooge, 'they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 934.

    Forcing people into labour is slavery. Unpaid work experience should be illegal; by all means place someone on a work experience placement. But pay them minimum wage.

    There is no moral or legal argument that makes any sense against this, only an ideological one.

    People pay taxes so they can be looked after in times of hardship, taking out less than they put in. That's fair. Workfare ISN'T.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 933.

    The only person I know with a joint Mining and Geology degree, acquired his degree just as 95% of the mines in the UK were being closed.
    Last I heard of him, he was working as a DJ in Germany.

    It’s a funny old game Saint!

  • rate this
    +146

    Comment number 932.

    This is good news for the potential employee. Not so good news if your a business person looking for cheap short term labour.

    Shelf stacking for JSA is not going to help an out of work IT specialist gain a job in IT. But a part time role in an IT company just might...

    Time to move away from the idea that the UK unemployed are there to be exploited and treated like dirt.

 

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