Unpaid job schemes ruled lawful
Government back-to-work schemes criticised as "forced labour" have been ruled lawful by the High Court.
A judge rejected jobless graduate Cait Reilly's claim that a scheme requiring her to work for free at a Poundland discount store breached human rights laws banning slavery.
Mr Justice Foskett, sitting at the High Court in London, said that "characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to 'slavery' or 'forced labour' seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking".
Miss Reilly, 23, from Birmingham, and 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver Jamieson Wilson, from Nottingham, both claimed that the unpaid schemes they were on violated article four of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery. The judge said 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.
Mistakes had been made in notifying Ms Reilly about the requirements of the Work Academy Scheme so that she did not appreciate the scheme was not mandatory. Mr Wilson had been given inadequate notice about the Community Action Programme (CAP).
But the judge ruled neither scheme was contrary to article four, and the errors made did not invalidate the 2011 jobseeker's allowance regulations.
The judge particularly criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the lack of clarity of the letters which warn claimants of a potential loss of benefits if they fail to participate in the schemes without good reason, and called for improved clarity.
Later, the Department said it had revised its standard letters, but nevertheless intended to appeal over that part of the ruling. The DWP said: "We do not believe there is anything wrong with the original letters and we will appeal this aspect of the judgment, but in the meantime we have revised our standard letters."
Later law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who acted for both Miss Reilly and Mr Wilson, said the issuing of flawed warning letters meant that "tens of thousands of people stripped of their benefits must now be entitled to reimbursement by the DWP".
PIL spokeswoman Tessa Gregory said: "As of January 2012, over 22,000 people had been stripped of their benefits for failing to participate in the Work Programme alone. That figure must now have doubled. Today's decision should mean that many of those subjected to benefit sanctions will be entitled to reimbursement by the Department of Work and Pensions."