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 1731.

    I think that this forced labour that this young woman was forced to undertake was hardly 'public service' and to write that if 'Judges disagree - then maybe we have the wrong Judges' is a very odd statement indeed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1730.

    Get the unemployed to find their own placement, or find one for them thats useful - but give them time to apply for work!!

    Why not combine it with a job club? Targeted support is whats needed - not a system which helps no-one but profitable businesses,

  • rate this

    Comment number 1729.

    Most people seem to have forgotten she was already on work experience that she was enterprising enough to go and find for herself, within her field of expertise. It is almost impossible for graduates to find jobs these days without going through an internship, which most can't afford unless they have rich parents to support them. Volunteering is the only option for the unpriveleged majority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1728.

    In reality they are not working for nothing because they get there alloance

  • rate this

    Comment number 1727.

    1713 your last sentence says it all - abuse by employers but add "aided by politicians".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1726.

    @1208 "Perhaps the DWP should just revert back to Labour's policy of leaving people on the dole: out of sight & out of mind!"
    No, what they SHOULD DO is make sure @ the outset, any schemes they've got for returning unemployed to work are actually WORKABLE,don't provide a source of free labour & are appropriate to the claimants needs & abilities!

    U turn to follow!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1725.

    Private companies whose current employees have to claim in-work benefits to bring their income up to a living wage should certainly not also get the use of free labour, no matter how it's dressed up or what it's called.
    Able benefit claimants, especially the long term, should 'gain experience' in working for the community.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1724.

    It's wrong to take an individual's money, and then give them some of their own money back"

    So, you don't agree with the idea of insurance then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1723.

    Some in politics and in business see this ongoing recession as a chance to make a move towards the kind of world they have always wanted.They are the same who say we should compete with the third world and totalitarian states,who wish to see laws assisting workers'repatriated'from Europe,in short a return to serfdom! Miss Reilly is a heroine and has exposed what is in effect evil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1722.

    Would any of these Pound Shops be viable Businesses if they didn't get free Slave Labour?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1721.

    Re my previous(-3 and counting) post (1675. Paul Barrett-Brown). Either those on this HYS are dim, or do not read posts to the end, or are completely devoid of humor - oh well! Best get back to the sweat-shop and crack the whip over the backs of my unpaid graduate workforce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1720.

    Just now
    I would not employ her for any job with an attitude like that !


    Working for free for a museum and expecting to be paid for working to build the profits of a commercial shop? What's wrong about that attitude?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1719.

    I wonder how much money the Poundland directors donated to the Tory party for this one!

    This country is run by corporations for the benefit of corporations by pumping money into these parasite politicians.

    Unfortunately Labour are no no different.

    How about run the country for the people? All of them not the 1% please......

  • rate this

    Comment number 1718.

    Nearly ALL the MAJOR RHIGH STREET EMPLOYERS are Secretly signed up to the Work Program. I asked in a Pound store today just how many of the staff were unpaid. The answer was an astonshing 80%. We have the crazy situation were kids are being put out of work because these retail outlets can get free labor to replace them..

  • rate this

    Comment number 1717.

    Can any of the slavedrivers here please explain why Poundland should be subsidised by the state (i.e. by YOU) rather than simply paying the worker for 30 hours of work?

    We could just fire *everyone* and put them on forced-labour JSA, including you, if that's what you really want?

    I'm having trouble understanding your levels of cognitive dissonance.

    Thanks very much!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1716.

    Cait Reilly and Jamie Wilson are heroes who should be lauded for taking on this behemoth government who run heedless over the lives of this country's poor who have been disenfranchised from the outset _
    Well Done to both of them!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1715.

    Ha, Ha, Ha - all you self righteous "I work harder than thou" morons totally miss the point - as always. You the squeezed middle must work your guts out. Gov.UK siphons your tax off to the greedy bankers, corporations, MPs and privileged upper classes.

    The old boys network is in full swing and you are not invited to join.

    You will work harder, like "Boxer" from Orwell's Animal Farm. Ha, Ha, Ha!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1714.

    hahaha IDS - politicians=scum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1713.

    1679 A bit melodramatic there! I don't think those who suffered that horrendous fate got any benefits or freedom to appeal to a court did they? I don't see the issue with people being asked to do some work experience, I did years back in summer at college and Uni its just part of making yourself as employable as possible. Equally there ahas to be care that businesses dont abuse it mind.

  • Comment number 1712.

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


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