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

    Comment number 891.

    Seems to me that Rich Tories want poor people to work for nothing for their rich mates so they can get even richer.. I'm all for people being helped back in to work, but not at the expense of setting up modern day workhouses

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    Shocking to think that this student could probably do a better job than the minister who gets paid a ridiculous amount of money to exploit people. Can I suggest the minister goes to Birmingham Uni to get a proper education. It's pretty clear from this government that their private educations are not preparing them for life in the real world. Warm pasty anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    Another grand scheme by our illustrious leaders they really dont have a clue about real world and how can they, they have never lived that way. These companies clearly have job positions so why not pay the job seeker properly. The £50-£60 job seekers get is not what keeps them on the dole its the housing/council tax benefits which the job seeker never sees as its usually all internal cash flow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 888.

    Vote Tory - this is what you get.

    And remember - anyone can lose their job and then become a victim of The Nasty Party. Even YOU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 887.

    Londonbirdie: 'you should work for your benefits or have them removed'. Why? - if you could get work you wouldn't be claiming benefits in first place! Also, think about what 'work' is - the selling (for a price) of your skills, knowledge, expertise to a business. Allowing that business to get those skills for free is like me walking into a shop & getting goods for free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 886.

    The beneficiary was Poundland who got free labour. The loss fell on the museum. The student also lost because while keeping her JSA, she got no training nor useful experience. At the museum she would have had experience in keeping with her geology degree. The person that Poundland would have had to pay had they not had free labour to do their job, also lost.
    Just as well we have a vote, folks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 885.

    Advisor 'So what do you want to do when you leave school'

    Kid 'Increase share value of corporations whilst getting no money or skills myself'

    Advisor 'That's the spirit, you'll go a long way in this world'

  • Comment number 884.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 883.

    This places into the light of truth the real attitudes of this rviled government, the true exploitative intentions of the Tory party. There is no point saying the Tories should be ashamed of themselves. They know no shame, it's the party of and for the greedy. They'd love to reintroduce slavery. Be fearful if the UK leaves the EU, there will be no protection in the UK against exploitation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 882.

    I'm all for a flexible job market, But this "something for nothing" approach is common in the catering trade wherby staff are taken on for (say) a day's work and either offered a job or not.Whilst this may be custom and practice, when it applies to someone not aware of this practice it does strike me as slave labour. It should be spelled out up front.

  • rate this

    Comment number 881.

    I know - why dont we give this obviously very intelligent girl duncan smith's job and put the rather dismal duncan smith to work in poundland where he obviously belongs....

  • rate this

    Comment number 880.

    I think we are fast approaching the time when we need to change the future, it always has to be done in the present, where the fog of war seems ever at its densest, the time is always with us, we have to know when to say enough is enough and the law is not totally with us, therefore it is at least partly against us. Politicians, not worth my spit. Send them out to do some real work, without pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 879.

    @838 - Exactly. Why aren't these people put to work in public services who are currently suffering catestrophic cuts under this government? Why are they being farmed out to private firms instead?
    People might be more enthusiastic about the idea if they felt they were giving something back to the country rather than increasing profits for greedy opportunist corporations. Typical Tories indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 878.

    Maybe if you actually did a useful degree and worked hard, you might have something to go for? Oh wait, too late!

  • rate this

    Comment number 877.

    The underlying problem is that the government can no longer afford to pay benefits to which people are legally entitled, and have contributed towards if not directly then by the ridiculously high (direct and indirect) taxation that is imposed on this country. This is a smokescreen, remind me again how many banksters are in gaol due to their illegal actions which created this problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 876.

    Class hatred is alive and well and it is nurtured by this government of Quentins and their fellow Quentins in the gutter press with their 'gor blimey' tosh.
    It's almost worth having a government like this if it means those cheering them on at present eventually become victims of them. Which some will!

  • rate this

    Comment number 875.

    It is free labour for multi-million and multi-billion pound companies. Those I know who have been forced into "filling shelves" have not gained anything. What more is this government getting wrong?

  • rate this

    Comment number 874.

    We need a massive works programme to get people back to genuine work, building and infrastructure using PUBLIC money ie paid in by the British public over the years. The current system is a joke subsidising profitable companies to use slave labour. Never mind a minimum wage what about a maximum wage , that would have helped at Barclays where a few enriched themselves and now many will be laid off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 873.

    Interesting firm of lawyers Miss Reilly chose to instruct, I wonder if they have any agendas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 872.





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