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 1691.

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

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1690.

    Wonder why such an inane comment as that written by Banish Delusion is chosen as Editors' Pick?? If you can't do better than that....

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1689.

    These scroungers should do a proper days work and not rely on inside information on lobbied policies to dictate their 'what to buy' shares.

    Seriously though, I was lucky that word at the Carlton Club from the presiding judge's friend indicated a bad judgement for corporate interests so I was straight on the phone, 'sell, sell SELL, IDS sold us a stinker'

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1688.

    Why not bring back the workhouse it seems the next logical scheme as the Tories head back towards Victorian values.The workers who sacrificed their liberty and some their lives to gain our liberty must be turning in their graves,watching this gutless generation throw away the rights they worked for.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1687.

    JSA is basically you getting your own money back, since JSA is funded with taxes, and tax is money that was taken from you by the government. So no, you're not "paid" JSA for anything. You're receiving some of your own money back, for the period that you're looking for work.

    It's wrong to take an individual's money, and then give them some of their own money back, in exchange for their labour.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1686.

    Divide and rule: I have no issue with people on JSA being required to work in an available job provided that job pays at least the minimum wage. To those who think minimum wage is a living wage - you are deluding yourselves - any recipient of minimum wage is almost certainly entitled to other benefits.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1685.

    1678.fraz3375
    I am appalled at the number of people on this site with the 'entitlement' attitude
    ==
    I know what you mean.

    I'm entitled to my expenses
    I'm entitled to my tax loopholes
    I'm entitled to a cheap workforce
    I'm entitled to my bonuses
    I'm entitled to exploit all those who I can exploit.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1684.

    Clearly this is a case for common sense. If someone is already voluteering and that can be officially confirmed by a company or organisation then that should show as proof for the scheme and that person exempt from the work programme. Not sure Poundland is the right place to send a Geology graduate for work experience. But generally I back the idea of work experience for benefits.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1683.

    Find some community work for long-term unemployed perhaps, but not free to commercial enterprises. That just loses still more jobs from the market.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1682.

    "jgm2
    Study geophysics. No nepotism there."

    If your dad has a mate in BP or Shell I suspect it's easier to get relevant "work experience".

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1681.

    1554.
    bil Haha V good.

    Did you know there is a 99p store now?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1680.

    1666.Bauer
    ...all those pesky bill...
    50 quid a week starts to look more like 200 quid a week which is minimum wage.
    ----

    People like you overlook the fact that she is 24 and is probably still living with parents, who are unlikely to receive such benefits.

    And if it all adds up to NMW why not remove all benefits and have the employer pay the commensurate wage for the duration?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1679.

    Forced to work for a pittance or even nothing. Didn't a certain group of "people" do the same thing in the 1930s and 40s. And another group in the 50s and 60s. Wern't they called concentration camps and Gulags.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1678.

    I am appalled at the number of people on this site with the 'entitlement' attitude and who down-mark anyone who has the nerve to even suggest that they should work for their handouts. If I had my way they would'n't get a bean from my taxes, Happily,the benefits culture is coming to an end,by popular demand from the silent majority.Keep it up,Mr Duncan Smith.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1677.

    there is a imbalance of pay a lack of jobs trapped in a token system when they only lend you money if you already have some...to access resources you need money...when the rich lose their cash they create it out of nothing and give it back to themselves..the foods pony..all you can afford, future is unemployment with population increase and machines..

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1676.

    1663.jch
    Just now
    I qualify as a Nurse in December. With the job prospect looking poor I may have to stack shelves in Poundland for nothing . This helps my nursing career how???

    ... It doesn't. It helps big business make more money and helps the Govt unemployment figures. You and people like you are pawns to be used. I would emigrate if I was you.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 1675.

    Absolute Disgrace!
    Let us have another war then we can send all these useless layabouts on the most dangerous assignments and, with a bit of luck, most of them will not come back - they are only fit for cannon fodder! Also means I can save my fully trained troops for battles that can be won.
    Signed, Colonel Blimp.

    Only kidding folks.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1674.

    1640.mark
    Just now
    @ 1617

    Shes a graduate who has a degree and she worked hard for that. This country needs its skilled workforce in the correct positions and not in Poundland. She was working unpaid voluntarily in the museum ok? Dont mix her up with some scrote youve seen outside the off licence

    +++

    Mixing up the High Drive people with the Low Drive lot is a recipe for disaster.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1673.

    @1620
    You cannot change the law and judges to suit personal morality of ones self. What would be next on your list if the next set of judges did not suit your opinion? Changing the rules to fit the game is worse than any of this. People on JSA are not all drunk and lazy. Some genuinely struggle to find work. Should those who demonstrate seeking, be faced with not being able to afford food?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1672.

    @1664.thesonandtheheir

    You googleNSA searching is week, old man! Housing benefit is £95pw by itself.

 

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