Workfare scheme setback as Poundland 'slave' wins appeal

Graduate Cait Reilly wins claim that government acted unlawfully over unpaid work in bargain shop

LAST UPDATED AT 12:47 ON Tue 12 Feb 2013

A UNIVERSITY graduate who claimed a back-to-work scheme that made her stack shelves in return for her benefits was unlawful has won a landmark legal challenge against the government. Cait Reilly had been asked to work for free in Poundland as part of the 'sector-based work academies' programme.

The 24-year-old lost her original case against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) scheme in the High Court in August, when she argued it breached slavery rules, but she and fellow claimant Jamieson Wilson, a 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver who refused to take part in the Community Action Programme, today won at the Court of Appeal, the BBC reports.

In what has been labelled a "huge setback" for the DWP, three judges agreed the unpaid schemes Reilly and Wilson were put on were legally flawed due to the lack of basic information offered to claimants.

Solicitor Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, who represented the pair, said others whose benefits had been stripped away due to failure to participate in similar schemes - dubbed 'workfare' - should have the right to ask for the cash back in light of the judgement.

She said: "The Court of Appeal has affirmed the basic constitutional principle that everyone has a right to know and understand why sanctions are being the threatened and imposed against them."

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady, meanwhile, said the judgement blew "a big hole through the government's workfare policies".

However, the government said it would appeal the ruling in the supreme court, and issued new regulations that would abide by the Court of Appeal's judgement, The Guardian notes.

Employment minister Mark Hoban claimed the court had not ruled workfare was forced labour, just that the regulations surrounding it were flawed. He said: "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." · 

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