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 1231.

    100. Mike from Brum.

    OK then Mike - resign from your job and see how you like working 2 months with absolutely no idea what will be at the end of it. Do you honestly think that working somewhere as a trainee for 8 weeks will make ANY positive contribution to these young peoples' CVs? Your firm just used (abused?) the scheme to vet people without risk of ending up with the wrong candidate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1230.

    The elites control the world, and you are a slave to be bought and sold. This scheme was a direct example of that - 100% evidence. Yet people still refuse to accept what is right in front of their face.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1229.

    You may object to your 'taxes subsidising free labour' but I object to mine subsidising someone to work for free in a museum. She has obviously milked this well and truly. Go to Uni at taxpayers expense, get a nice cosy hobby job, while our taxes pay her benefits and ensure she never has to pay off her student loan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1228.

    As a tax payer, this really annoys me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1227.

    I'm long term unemployed, and I find it really annoying that only unemployed folk under a certain age are allowed to take part in work experience schemes like this, and those of us above that age limit are not allowed in fear of being sanctioned!

    Not only does this scheme promote slave labour, it also promotes age discrimination which I thought was supposed to be illegal in this day and age!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1226.

    If you think it's bad being paid less than half of the minimum wage of six quid an hour then imagine how cross people were when they found out they'd be getting less than half of the 150K a year they were earning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1225.

    Perhaps if she'd volunteered to join an arctic expedition or a trip up the Amazon looking for fossils she might have impressed someone enough to give her a job that she might actually be qualified for...or would that have been even harder than moving exhibits in a museum or washing a floor somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1224.

    Seems a lot of people havent noticed that she was actually doing unpaid work that she had chosen. In the library. What her ACTUAL complaint was that they wanted to take her out of the voluntary unpaid library position and stuff her into poundland. She knows why...just like we know. This was NOT what the scheme was intended for

  • rate this

    Comment number 1223.

    Hilarious... People can't call someone who dose voluntary work workshy and lazy for not working so they say it is the wrong kind of work, even though it is more likely to get someone with qualifications a job than working stacking shelves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1222.

    So it takes until now for a Court of Appeal to remind everyone of the Slave Labour laws?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1221.

    This is about the rich asserting their will over the poor, in what is supposed to be a democracy. Being forced to work for nothing is extremely personally devaluing, and whatever jargon you dress it up in, where any element of coercion is involved, it is slavery

  • rate this

    Comment number 1220.

    Working 30 hours per week while trying to find and interview for employment? That's stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1219.

    The scheme worked for us. As a SME we had a vacancy and could have taken one person instead we cycled people through 2months at a time, so 6 got experience per year. We also made sure the trainees gained a qualification, The trainee was still getting JSA.

    What sort of a qualification can anyone gain from two months employment ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1218.

    Having been in continuous employment over 30 years, I now know the cruelty of unemployment. I am lucky as I can support myself at present but I recognise not everyone who has been a hard worker can. Having no job is bad enough. An income of £60 a week must be misery. If you have paid your dues in the past, to be pressured to work for nothing, like the HGV driver, seems terrible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1217.

    This government is a disgrace I have just heard on the news a minister saying we will carry on with the scheme and if we do not win the appeal we will change the law They must think they are above the kaw

  • rate this

    Comment number 1216.

    she is not paying any tax.?

    Is she not? Pray tell, where does she buy food, utilities etc. VAT (TAX) free in the UK?

    As for HB/CB etc. I'm unemployed, I live with my mother, she receives no such benefits so I get ~£71 per week.

    Many are the same. How's that fit in with your "you're paid already" ethos?

    Seems to me the likes of you are the hard of understanding ones...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1215.

    You should not be forced to work unpaid, but you should be forced to come off benefits and do any paid job available.
    I often wonder how we can have millions of immigrants turn up and find work while the indigenous unemployed claim there is nothing available...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1214.

    I have no problem with people who are unemployed being required to work but these people should be paid slavery was abolisged in 1833. I cannot see how the goverment should be able to appeal forcing people to work for no wages is slavery. If people were forced to work but being paid and they refused then yes stop there benifits come on goverment see sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1213.

    Always the same Tory idiots that spout utter rubbish on benefits.

    If i was made redundant tomorrow.

    I would eventually get after long wait and being left virtually destitute about £72 per week.

    They might pay my rent which is £84 per week ,

    Thats ALL, nothing more .

    So £72 for gas, electric, food, clothes, water, bus fares, I am currently employed and spend £20 pw on gas electric alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1212.

    1161. where am I
    'Labour spent a decade creating a situation where aspiration exceeds possiblility.'

    Prince Charles said something similar years ago about 'people knowing their places'. So why are we constantly being told that if we want something we have to work hard for it, when that's clearly a lie? Its a bit like telling a child to be good & Santa might bring him something nice.


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