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 1631.

    There seems to be a lot of smug comments here coming from people who seem to think unemployment could never happen to them. It could be you stacking shelves for big business for nothing in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1630.

    @jgm2: "Geology degree on its own is pretty superficial."

    As a math postgrad whose partner studies geology, I wonder where it is that geology degrees are "superficial". They seem to a me a tough combination of maths, science, observation, fieldwork.

    Mind you, I've known petrochemical engineers get paid lots to do very little, so maybe I'm confronting banker-reasoning: "works hard iff paid lots".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1629.

    "It was the best of times"( for the 1%) "It was the worst of times" (for the rest of us). A tale of two Britains. Welcome back to Dickensian times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1628.

    1615. Bury Angry
    These people should get off their butts and make a useful contribution to society.


    It is very difficult to contribute to society in any meaningful way when you are forced to stack shelves in Poundland. You cannot pay tax or find a job somewhere else very easily. Get a grip!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1627.

    "1617.Disgruntled Member of the Public"

    So she was better off shelf stacking for a company than volunteering in a museum, working for free rather than gaining valuable expirence and giving free labor to a massive company than a community resource?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1626.

    A body piercing studio would be an ideal JSA placement for Vlad The Impaler.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1625.

    I agree that some people do need encouragement to work, but at least send them for a 3 month job and pay them the national minimum wage? The company shouldn't get free labour, but if they are paid, the govt doesn't have to pay Job seekers allowance for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1624.

    Working on a scheme whereby a profitable company is given free labour by this government,and claiming it is part of a work ethic scheme is nothing short of slave labour, those companies involved should have at least made up the job seekers allowance to their minimum wage for those involved, and as for saying that it was compulsory, subject to loss of benefits, contemptible. But thats I.D.S.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1623.

    So, some clever dick student wants to make a point! I am sure that most people who are unemployed welcome the chance of 'some' employment, after all they're receiving jobseekers allowance. We're crazy in this country; some won't travel across town to find work, whereas those from others countries travel hundreds of miles, find work and make a home, and aspects of that aren't right either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1622.

    Couple of questions the BBC have failed to find out (or maybe don't want to report). How long were each of the individuals out of work for? How many jobs did they actually apply for whilst recieving benefit? How much (if any) legal aid did they both recieve to take this case on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1621.


    'I am not sure why anyone thinks we should be paying anything to people who don't work'

    That's the point. If they're on work experience they ARE working and therefore should be paid accordingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1620.

    Perfectly reasonable to ask people to contribute to public service in return for benefits; if judges disagree then maybe we have the wrong judges. Don't know that we should be forcing people to work free for commercial enterprises though, unless it's valid work experience in their chosen field. Its not working unpaid- they get the benefit for it. If the law works against us, change the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1619.

    She seems like great fun, I imagine all Geologist students are fun

  • rate this

    Comment number 1618.

    Why not pick up litter for the equivalent of hours at the minimum wage rate that you would draw in benefit, that way you will at least be doing something ? or is that slave labour?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1617.

    Maybe she should be focusing her attentions on getting a job, instead of sponging off the state? There are jobs out there, but people seem far too picky about what they do to earn a living. The handouts this country gives to people astounds me, why work when you can just be spoon fed and breed a culture of laziness... sheesh...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1616.

    Make people do something by all means BUT work for nothing,get real,this is scheme is just a new way of spelling "slavery".
    Still the Tory toffs and their pals have no worries now do they!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1615.

    These people should get off their butts and make a useful contribution to society. It will build character and give them a reason to get out of bed. Perhaps if these people put as much effort in finding a job as they do fighting for their 'rights' then they may well be gainfully employed by now - even if it is in Poundland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1614.

    The young lady says - "Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time as the experience did not help me get a job”

    How does know it would not have helped? Pretty arrogant attitude to work and learning to work with others in a workplace.
    Quite bizarre or is this typical of young unemployed attitudes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1613.

    1582. Trout Mask Replica
    Actually the next social barrier is the "internship" or "work experience".
    The other tack is the intern-conveyor belt.

    Two of the companies I've recently worked for have taken a few interns each year for the past three years, keep them a year and then let them go and bring in the next lot.

    Never employed any of them, even though most were top notch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1612.

    The oppressive, bellicose corporations that hijacked politics in the late twentieth century have become a drain on our abilities to create a government that is truly of and for the people. Their modes of production and ownership are an antithesis in a modern age and it is up to we the people to devise mutual methods as an alternative to their increasingly aggressive hegemonies.


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