Unpaid work scheme is illegal, judges rule
University graduate Cait Reilly has won a Court of Appeal ruling that a Government back-to-work scheme requiring her to work for free at a Poundland discount store was unlawful.
Three judges in London declared that the regulations under which most of the schemes were created are unlawful and quashed them.
The Government expressed "disappointment and surprise" at the decision and said it intended to make changes to ensure future schemes are lawfully based.
Moves to appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling are also under consideration.
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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solicitors said later the ruling meant "all those people who have been sanctioned by having their jobseeker's allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the back-to-work schemes affected will be entitled to reclaim their benefits".
A statement from the Public Interest Lawyers said: "The result is that over the past two years the Government has unlawfully required tens of thousands of unemployed people to work without pay and unlawfully stripped thousands more of their subsistence benefits."
Employment minister Mark Hoban said he was disappointed, but added: "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 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."
Yesterday's ruling was made unanimously by Lord Justice Pill, Lady Justice Black and Sir Stanley Burnton.
In November 2011, Miss Reilly had to leave her voluntary work at a 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 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 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 unrelated to his qualifications that 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.
In his ruling, Lord Justice Pill said the challenge was to the lawfulness of the 2011 Government regulations made by Ian Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, under sections of the Jobseekers Act 1995.
The judge said he was "unable to conclude that the statutory requirement for the regulations to make provision" for back-to-work schemes "of a prescribed description" had been met.
Declaring the regulations unlawful, the judge said they must be quashed since their central purpose was to impose "requirements" on jobseeker allowance claimants and sanctions for failing to comply.