Employment Law | Government Loses ‘Back To Work’ Appeal

A Supreme Court ruling has decreed that regulations underpinning the Government’s Back-to-Work scheme were invalid and has upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision, which went against the Government in February.

The case centred on graduate Cait Reilly, who first took her case against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to Court in January 2012, saying it had breached her human rights. Ms Reilly was forced to leave her voluntary job to work unpaid in Poundland or risk losing her Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA).

The Supreme Court stopped short of ruling that the regulations constituted forced or compulsory labour, but decided it was unlawful for the Government to fail to supply Parliament and hundreds of thousands of jobseekers with proper information about the so-called workfare schemes that claimants were forced to undertake at pain of losing benefits.

However, the judges said the schemes came “nowhere close to the type the exploitative conduct” prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights since the conditions attached to payment of JSA were “directly linked to its purpose”.

The judgment would have resulted in the Government having to refund £130m to about 250,000 unemployed people for unlawful sanctioning, had it not been for emergency legislation brought in this spring by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

However, despite the ruling upholding the Appeal Court’s decision, the DWP claimed a victory, as it said that the Supreme Court had unanimously upheld its right to require people claiming JSA to take part in programmes that would help them to get work.

Ms Reilly, however, begged to differ and said that she welcomed the ruling, as it would “serve to improve the current system and assist jobseekers who have been unfairly stripped of their benefits”.

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Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London