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
    +6

    Comment number 1611.

    I just had a disturbing thought- this sounds a bit too much like enforced community service. Except it's not even working for the community to benefit. The unemployed are, in essence, facing something we use as punishment.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1610.

    It isn't like she wasn't doing voluntary work already -and a museum will do much more for her CV than working in crummy poundland!

    Working for anything less than the minimum wage is illegal and these companies are taking advantage!

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1609.

    Congratulations and fair play to Cait Reilly for sucessfully fighting and beating the government in this case, why should she (or anyone else) be forced into compulsory unpaid work against her will, this would open the gates to many more claims and money back to people that the government / DWP has stolen unlawfully

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 1608.

    @1594 "The governent should force people to work but they should also be paid."
    2.5mil unemployed - 4/500K job vacancies - where are you planning to "force" the other 2million to work ?

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1607.

    How about giving some of the claimants some work experience working for the job centre or other benefits agencies. It would reduce the backlog and give a better perspective on what the job involves and needs, for all parties.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1606.

    there is no place in a Democratic country for slave labour, having said that I do believe that jobseekers money including rent, council tax and other benefits should be totalled, divided by the minimum wage and this will give the number of hours someone should work, this will stop the rot of laziness from setting in and also give people a sense of self worth

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 1605.

    scumbag steals my car gets community service as ken clarke says jail is too expensive.This intelligent,caring young lady already doing voluntary work,gets "community service".The tories realy are a nasty breed.Their children will probably get "internships" or work with "thinktanks".Roll on 2015 and vote them out.Better the devil you know,come back labour.What have this lot done for the people?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1604.

    1587.
    Violet Mildred

    How the Civil Service could dream up such a scheme, and then oblige Cait to work for nothing against her will is clearly an abuse of her and tantamount to slavery.
    ****

    Oh typical Tory spin it was not the Civil Service who came up with this it was Tory Party Policy brought about by one Ian Duncan Smith.

    Next it will be Ed Milliband dragged the girl to Poundland to work.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 1603.

    ANY work - Benefit.

    NO work - NO Benefit

    Get real...

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 1602.

    There is a difference between being paid for work and being made to work as a slave. It's the reason the minimum wage came in. Time to cough up.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 1601.

    What a rediculous decision. Surely if the person in question did not want work experience then no-one was actually forcing her to do it. She should have turned it down and let someone who was prepared to do it have the opportunity.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1600.

    "I think the minimum wage has been a success, yes. It turned out much better than many people expected, including the CBI." It is now Conservative Party policy to support the minimum wage.
    David Cameron 2005.
    Someone is/was telling "Porkies"....

  • Comment number 1599.

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

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 1598.

    When I was unemployed after leaving Uni, before any of these schemes, I volunteered unpaid at the local council, and later got a job there and continued with my career.
    Unpaid work is not necessarily bad, but it should be relevant and it should be of use to the person doing it, not just to the employer, otherwise its just tax payers subsidising the private sector(again) and taking away real jobs.

  • Comment number 1597.

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

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1596.

    I agree that the minimum wage is there for a reason - and everyone working should be paid it. I am not sure why anyone thinks we should be paying anything to people who don't work. The number of immigrants working hard in this country have put to bed the lie that there isn't any work to be had.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1595.

    "1244.
    Pete Greenfield
    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"

    That's precisely what Miss Reilly was doing, actually. It says so in the article.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1594.

    So the alternative is to keep on paying their benefit and not force them to work.. Hmm..

    The governent should force people to work but they should also be paid.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1593.

    @1492.JasonEssex
    "any party which suggested matching the tax policies of Norway wouldn't get many MPs"

    When Norway's oil runs out, their economy will beach.

    Socialism is all very well until you run out of other people's money to spend.

    How about we have a simple and 'fair' tax and welfare system rather than an impossibly complicated (and easily abused) 'progressive' one?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1592.

    I bet the vast majority of those in favour of this scheme got paid when they first started working - everybody has to start somewhere and learn on the job. The problem here is companies getting free labour when they can afford to pay the going rate - slave labour. This is not an apprenticeship scheme or anything like it - how much training do you need to stack a shelf.

 

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