Although back-to-work schemes that require jobseekers to undertake unpaid work experience have been ruled lawful, the government could still find itself open to millions of pounds in reimbursement claims from people stripped of their benefits.
Reilly also questioned the legality of the Work Academy Scheme in which she took part, claiming that it breached article four of the European Convention on Human Rights.
She was joined in her legal action by unemployed HGV driver, Jamieson Wilson, who was likewise keen to see the quashing of Department for Work and Pensions
’ regulations, under which the initiatives were set up.
But Mr Justice Foskett rejected their claims that the initiatives were comparable to modern day slavery. “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,” he said.
Lack of clarity
However, he did criticise the DWP for the lack of clarity provided to claimants over the risk of potentially losing benefits if they failed to take part in the schemes without good reason.
Reilly had been misinformed about the Work Academy Scheme and so did not realise that it was not mandatory or she would be required to work for free, he said. At the same time, Wilson had not been given proper notice regarding the Community Action Programme, in which he participated.
But the DWP told the Daily Telegraph
that it did not believe there was anything wrong with the original letters it had sent, adding that it planned to appeal that particular aspect of the judgement – although it admitted to having now revised its standard letters.
Law firm, Public Interest Lawyer
, who acted on behalf of both Reilly and Wilson, warned, however, that the finding that the DWP’s letters were inadequate could mean tens of thousands of people who lost their benefits were entitled to reimbursement.
Spokeswoman Tessa Gregory said that, as of January 2012, more than 22,000 people had been stripped of their benefits for failing to participate in the Work Programme alone, a figure that 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,” she continued. “It is truly extraordinary that the Government has found itself in this position by failing to provide basic information to those affected.”