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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  • Comment number 1251.

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

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1250.

    I wonder about some people in this country?
    "I pay my taxes to but I dont begrudge a young women who see's an Injustice because she feels she is being treated like a slave"
    what i do see is many people , saying the world revolves around me with no compassion!!

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1249.

    Slavery was abolished a while ago, maybe someone had better tell the government.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 1248.

    The problem is that too many people use a job seekers allowance as income and do not even bother to look for a job. It could be nice to use them, but not in the easy jobs like stacking shelves,

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1247.

    Why does this government insist on appealing perfectly sound decisions handed down by our Courts. They are hellbent on wasting taxpayers money. They should be subject to the same test as the rest of us "would a reasonable, privately paying person continue with this litigation"? In other words, would they spend their OWN money on it??

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 1246.

    'Legally flawed'? No. ILLEGAL.

    Not only that, immoral.

    Also a clear breach of article 4(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights: “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”

    This insipid piece of Tory tripe essentially legalised SLAVE LABOUR. In the UK. In 2013AD.

    Utterly disgraceful and the ministers responsible should be in jail.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 1245.

    As an SME, the unemployed want paid work not just for money but the sense of responsibility of going to work. If I employ someone, I would expect them to show commitment and be an investment for the company rather than having someone who would be forced to work for me for nothing and that means giving them wages. If it is not that then it is nothing more than exploitation of the unemployed.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1244.

    It seems that a lot of people commenting believe that getting benefits claimants to put in some work for their benefits has to be punitive. Why not find people quality placements with charities, community groups and museums, where they can learn some valuable work skills, give something back and meet other people, rather than line the pockets of commercial organisations?

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 1243.

    Who is funding these court cases? It seems a nice cross section, an unemployed graduate and an unemployed lorry driver who I suspect are not picking up the tab?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1242.

    Well of course it's forced labour. Why is this even up for debate? It's the governments doing what they want again. Nobody listens to the electoriate they just make so many contravercial laws then dangle the opportunity to repeal one of them if someone gets in. Voting is a complete joke in this country. Protests are ignored. It's a disgrace to call this country democratic.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1241.

    These schemes INCREASE unemployment. A chap is on JSL and is forced to do 6 months work. That work is not paid for by the 'employer; so they don't ned to recruit anybody. After six months they get another poor sap i to rpelace the oringinal person.

    These schemes are immoral, counter productive and illegal.

    Time to go IDS.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 1240.

    As an employer, I object to the taxpayer subsidising competitors such as Poundland/Tesco/etc.

    As a worker, I object to my wage being brought down by unpaid labourers.

    As an organiser, I object to people being taken away from the task of jobseeking in order to do other work.

    Most importantly, as a human, I object to slavery. And "do this work or you will starve" is the definition of slavery.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1239.

    A lot of people are missing the point. The purpose of this exercise is to subsidise companies to take on unemployed people so the Government can claim it's economic policy is working. The fact that the private sector has failed to employ the public sector workers made redundant during cuts (as promised by George Osbourne/David Cameron) is a major embarrassment to them.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1238.

    The only problem I see here is that companies can keep getting free labour and therefore don't need to hire. The concept of finding unemployed people something to do to earn their benefits can't be disputed. Although I think their benefits should be topped up to the minimum wage in these circumstances, if they are less than this. Working 30 hours for the JSA isn't fair imo.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1237.

    This PM and Chancellor were always likely to come up with a scheme like this. They probably thought of it at a Bullingdon Club reunion.

  • rate this
    -11

    Comment number 1236.

    Can you lot stop this pointless debate and go back to 'looking for a job' please.

    Your internet bill must be costing us taxpayers a fortune.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1235.

    I heard that the government is going to appeal this case. As it seems that our current government is only too happy to force people to work for nothing, I think that the much derided Human Rights Court will be called on to tell our leaders that this is verging on forced labour and is against our human rights so is not allowed.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1234.

    I think something like this is a double edge sword, I have recently come of job seekers and found myself an apprenticeship and not once in my interviews was i asked about my 2-4 week compulsory work programs. It is a bit unfair that they work for their JSA as many get JSA or more for nothing, but correct me if i'm wrong but if you're on JSA, don't they state you can't work more then 16 hours p/w?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1233.

    If you WANT a job it works just fine. I wanted a job, I did a trial at poundland, after it I was offered a job, simple. For that placement I worked for benefit and a chance of a job at the end. 2 years later I'm now a supervisor in the same store. Its not slave labour, its the chance to prove yourself in a workplace. If you're too shortsighted to realise that blame yourself not the system.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1232.

    @jgm2 The majority of degrees are worthless without a follow on.

 

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