DWP WAS 'WORKING BEYOND THE LAW'
FULL ARTICLE HERE
A university graduate has today won her Court of Appeal claim that requiring her to work for free at a Poundland discount store was unlawful.
Cait Reilly was backed by three judges in London who ruled that the regulations under which most of the Government’s back-to-work schemes were created are unlawful and quashed them.
But they disagreed with a comparison to the programmes as 'slave labour', and found that participation in the schemes does not breach human rights, in the legal aid funded case.
However, lawyers say today's ruling could mean thousands who had their benefits stripped for refusing to take part in the programme - designed to help the unemployed gain skills through training and unpaid work - could now reclaim them at a multi-million pound cost to the taxpayer.
Today Miss Reilly, 24, from Birmingham, and 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver Jamieson Wilson, from Nottingham, both succeeded in their claims that the unpaid schemes were legally flawed.
Their solicitors said later the ruling means 'all those people who have been sanctioned by having their jobseekers’ allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the back-to-work schemes affected will be entitled to reclaim their benefits.'
But a DWP spokesperson said it was adamant that there would not be any repayment and was seeking permission to appeal to the High Court.
She added: '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.'
THE PROGRAMMES GETTING BRITAIN 'BACK TO WORK'
Work experience scheme - For 16 to 24-year-olds. Scheme offers a work experience placement with a business for two to eight weeks. Job seekers volunteer for the course but they must continue to look for permanent jobs. These placements can become apprenticeships and lead to potential employment later.
Sector based work academy places - Open to people of all ages. They are voluntary to join and can last for six weeks, including training and then four weeks' work experience, tailored to local job vacancies. They end in a guaranteed job interview. Jobseekers can still claim benefits but once they get a place attendance becomes mandatory and face losing benefits if they don't attend.
Mandatory work activity - Placements are usually for people who have been unemployed for more than 13 weeks. Each placement can last up to four weeks. People can still receive benefits but can face losing them for 13 weeks if they fail to attend.
Work programme - is open to anyone and is the backbone of the government's back-to-work policy. If you are 18-24, nine months after you start to claim jobless benefits you are required to attend the Work Programme. If you are above 25 years old, 12 months after you start to claim jobseekers' allowance you are required to attend. It is delivered by companies and charities appointed as service providers by the DWP.
Post work programme - expected to start this year, it will be for those who have been through the Work Programme and have still not found a job. Participants will be expected to accept ongoing case management or a community action placement - a mandatory six-month work experience placement tailored to your local communities needs. Anyone who fails to attend without a good reason faces losing their benefits.
Today’s ruling was made by Lord Justice Pill, Lady Justice Black and Sir Stanley Burnton.
In November 2011, Miss Reilly 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 she would lose her jobseeker’s allowance.
For two weeks she stacked shelves and cleaned floors.
Mr Wilson, a qualified mechanic, was told that he had to work unpaid, cleaning furniture for 30 hours a week for six months, under a scheme known as the Community Action Programme.
He objected to doing unpaid work that was unrelated to his qualifications and would not help him re-enter the jobs market.
He refused to participate and as a result was stripped of his jobseeker’s allowance for six months.
After the ruling Public Interest Lawyers, who represent Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson, said the Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision was a 'huge setback for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), whose flagship reforms have been beset with problems since their inception'.
They said that 'until new regulations are enacted with proper parliamentary approval, nobody can be compelled to participate on the schemes.'
Solicitor Tessa Gregory, said: 'Today’s 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.
'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.'
Ms Gregory said: 'The case has revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions was going behind Parliament's back and failing to obtain Parliamentary approval for the various mandatory work schemes that it was introducing.
'It also reveals a lack of transparency and fairness in the implementation of these schemes.
'The claimants had no information about what could be required of them under the back-to-work schemes.
'The Court of Appeal has affirmed the basic constitutional principle that everyone has a right to know and understand why sanctions are being threatened and imposed against them.'
Ms Reilly said she was delighted with today's judgment.
'I brought this case because I knew it was wrong when I was prevented from doing my voluntary work in a museum and forced to work in Poundland for free for two weeks as part of a scheme known as the sector based work academy, ' she said.
'Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time as the experience did not help me get a job.
'I wasn't 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.
'Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time as the experience did not help me get a job'
'I hope the Government will now take this opportunity to rethink its strategy and do something which actually builds on young unemployed people's skills and tackles the causes of 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.
'The Government ought to understand that if they created schemes which actually helped people get back into work then they wouldn't need to force people to attend.'
Mr Wilson said in a statement after the ruling: 'I refused to participate in the Community Action Programme (CAP) because I objected to being made to clean furniture for 30 hours a week for six months when I knew it wouldn't help me find employment.
DWP WAS 'WORKING BEYOND THE LAW': KEY POINTS OF TODAY'S RULING
In his ruling, Lord Justice Pill said he agreed there was an 'important public interest in getting people back to work' as well as a 'major saving in not having to pay Jobseeker’s Allowance, and possibly other benefits.'
The judge also said he appreciated there could be a substantial saving of public money if effective sanctions are available when jobseekers are not cooperating with proposals.
He added: 'The Secretary of State’s object in these proceedings is not to end jobseeker’s allowance but to ensure that it is only paid to those actively seeking employment and prepared to cooperate with attempts made by the state to achieve that end. The entitlement to receive the weekly sum should depend on such cooperation.'
But the judge said it was a matter of 'statutory construction'.
Declaring the regulations unlawful, he said they must be quashed since their central purpose was to impose 'requirements' on claimants of jobseeker allowance and impose sanctions for failing to comply.
He said: 'Claimants must be made aware of their obligations and of the circumstances in which, and the manner in which, sanctions will be applied.'
'I was given next to no information about the programme. I was told simply that I had to do whatever the DWP's private contractor instructed me to do and that if I didn't I may lose my benefits.
'Being without jobseeker's allowance was very difficult for me but I don't regret taking a stand as the CAP is a poorly thought-out and poorly implemented scheme which even according to the DWP's own statistics is not helping anyone get people back to work.
'I am now participating in the Work Programme but it doesn't involve me working for free.'
The Government expressed 'disappointment and surprised at the court's decision on the regulations.
But employment minister Mark Hoban said the the judges' ruling upheld the Government's right to run back-to-work schemes.
Mr Hoban said: 'The court has backed our right to require people to take part in programmes which will help get them into work.
'It's ridiculous to say this is forced labour. This ruling ensures we can continue with these important schemes.
'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 judgment and are seeking permission to appeal, but new regulations will be tabled to avoid any uncertainty.
'Ultimately the judgment confirms that it is right that we expect people to take getting into work seriously if they want to claim benefits.'