Duncan Lewis


Asylum, Detention/ Fast Track

Managed Migration, Public Law

All work for you benefit scheme unlawful, declares appeals court

Date: (14 February 2013)    |    

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The court of appeal has declared that almost all work-for-your-benefit schemes were unlawful due to a lack of basic information given to the unemployed.
A three-judge panel at the royal courts of justice ruled that the secretary of state for work and pensions had acted unlawfully by not giving the unemployed enough information about the penalties they faced and their rights to appeal against being made to work unpaid for, in some cases, hundreds of hours.
The court of appeal was to decide whether government employment schemes were a form of forced labour and if tens and thousands of unemployed people were still within the entitlement to compensation after being wrongly sanctioned by the Department of Work and Pensions.
Last August judge Justice Foskett had given a 50 page ruling in which he dismissed the claims of two jobseekers who argued that government’s back-to-work schemes were nothing but ‘forced labour’.
Employment lawyers acting for the government and the two unemployed complainants went back to the courts in December appealing on different aspects of the findings.
Cait Reilly a geology graduate was told to work in PoundLand unpaid while Jamieson Wilson, an unemployed lorry driver, was left penniless after the DWP stripped him of all benefits when he refused to work for free for six months under a new trial programme. Now both have won their claims.
Their lawyers tried to put an argument that the scheme was not substantiated by the government by not publishing enough official information about the schemes for them to be lawful but the judge was not impressed and the ruling had gone against the complainants in the court too.
But the new aspects with which the complainants went to the court depended on a letter sent to Wilson by the government which Judge Foskett found did not conform to its own rules on providing clear information and therefore his six-month benefit sanction for failing to work unpaid for 26 weeks was unlawful.
Subsequent to the ruling the DWP sent out emergency letters to the unemployed, clarifying sanction rules in an attempt to conform to the judgment but their leave for appeal application was rejected by the court.
The court ruling means tens of thousands of unemployed people who have been sanctioned under schemes such as Work Experience and the Work Programme are entitled to a rebate. However the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it would not be paying out money until all legal avenues had been exhausted.
On Tuesday morning the DWP issued fresh regulations that would abide by the new judgment but though the court refused the government leave to appeal the DWP says it would take the matter to the Supreme Court.