Successful claims by Cait Reilly, a 24-year-old unemployed geology graduate and Jamieson Wilson, a 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver, that the Government’s Work Scheme was unlawful have polarised political opinion.
However, the legal position is far more mundane than media hype about ‘slave labour’ suggests. As Sir Stanley Burnton, one of the three judges, stated, ‘this case is not about the social, economic, political or other merits’ of the schemes but the ‘lawfulness of the regulations’ underpinning them.
Slavery or Forced Labour?
Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson had claimed that the unpaid scheme they were on violated Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits slavery or forced labour.
This argument was thrown out by the High Court which stated that characterising such schemes as analogous to ‘slavery’ or ‘forced labour’ seemed to be ‘a long way from contemporary thinking’.
The Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal upheld the argument that the Government had not put into law enough information about the various work schemes and so exceeded its powers under the Jobseekers Act 1995.
Specifically mistakes had been made in not notifying Ms Reilly that the requirements of the Work Academy Scheme were not mandatory and Mr Wilson had been given inadequate notice about the Community Action Programme. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was also criticised over the lack of clarity of their letters which warn claimants of a potential loss of benefits if they fail to participate in the schemes.
The court found that both Miss Reilly and Mr Wilson were each entitled to a declaration that there had been breaches of the 2011 jobseeker’s allowance regulations in their cases. The errors made did not, however, invalidate the 2011 jobseeker’s allowance regulations and the DWP has now brought in new, more precise regulations to allow it to require jobseekers to take part in these schemes.
It has been speculated that this ruling now means that thousands of unemployed people who have had benefits docked for not taking part in Work Schemes are now entitled to a rebate, though this will not prove easy. A spokesman for the DWP said it would not pay back a penny until all legal avenues had been explored and they ‘have no intention of giving back money to anyone who has had benefits removed because they refused to take getting into work seriously.’
Despite being refused permission to appeal by the Court of Appeal the DWP said it would take the matter to the Supreme Court so those seeking a rebate will have to await the outcome of this process.
If you would like more information regarding the back to work scheme or other Employment matters, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can advise you. Please contact Aneil Balgobin via e-mail ABalgobin@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.