Tuesday, 12 February 2013

"Back-to-work scheme breached laws"

The Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of Cait Reilly's contention that the government's unpaid work schemes are legally flawed.  There's the BBC's report here and the Guardian's here.  The latter says that the  scheme is "in tatters".  But let's not get carried away.
They're unlawful only because of "a lack of basic in  formation given to the unemployed".  They weren't given enough information about the penalties they faced or their rights to appeal.  Tens of thousands of people who have been sanctioned are entitled to "a rebate", but the DWP has said that it won't pay out until "all legal avenues" have been exhausted.  They're going to the Supreme Court.  Which all means that it's not the schemes themselves - MWA and the rest - which are unlawful, just the way the DWP went about it.  And they've already changed the paperwork.
Mark Hoban is cross.  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.  We are, however, disappointed and surprised at the court's decision on our regulations. There needed to be flexibility so we could give people the right support to meet their needs and get them into a job. 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."

PS:  There's an excellent comment piece by Zoe Williams in the Guardian.


  1. am delighted! Good for her and indeed the other person who also won.

    I have just listened on The World At One, Radio 4, to details and to an interview with Mark Hoban who yes indeed was really annoyed. It was stated, maybe wrongly, by Radio 4, that Cait should have been advised of her right not to participate in the programme Check it out on inlayer.

    1. That's right; she was put on what was supposed to be a voluntary scheme. I think the rules said that she had a week in which to object, and after that it was compulsory to finish it. But she wasn't told that.

    2. In many ways the ruling on the other case is more significant because it concerns the CAP which is far more pernicious than the sector based work academy because:
      1. there is not even a pretence of voluntarism
      2. t lasts for 6 months (not 4 weeks)
      3. It is going to effect a lot of people.

      My initial elation at the result has been tempered somewhat (though not my admiration for the claimant and their legal advisers) because it may just be that the DWP can rectify their failings merely by issuing more and detailed regulations. Let's hope this is not the case and that all forms of compulsory work for no pay becomes a thing of the past and a lesson from history as to how not to do things.

    3. My understanding is that DWP can do, and quite easily. What's going to be interesting though is how successful people are in having benefits reinstated, reimbursed if already sanctioned and if there will be any scope for further claims based on hardship experienced - e.g. if someone has been made homeless by sanctions (this strictly speaking shouldn't happen, but that's a separate issue) with all that can flow from that.

      I suspect this won't turn out to be the victory some outlets were initially reporting it as - as historian correctly mentions, this is in effect a technical overstepping of authority rather than anything to do with forced labour or slavery, but hopefully it might help to inform public opinion, which still seems to be going along with DWP's narrative to an extent.

      In response to Judi below - absolutely. It seems nonsensical to go on the radio and talk about the need for flexibility when you're a minister at a department which seems hell-bent on removing it, at least as far as sanctions go.

  2. I agree with Hoban's view that "flexibility" is desirable.

    However, Ministers removed the very flexibility that they themselves advocated when they tried to make everything mandatory and intoduced unreasonably and excessively harsh penalities for alleged non-compliance in a supposedly"flexible" scheme.

    Hoban can't have this one both ways, imho, and I don't think the Supreme Court would permit him to try to.

  3. Ian Duncan-Smith introduces the Work Programme to "assist" the unemployed into employment. Result: all providers miss their target of 5.5% of referrals remaining in employment for six months. (average 3.5%)

    Ian Duncan-Smith introduces the Universal Job Match system at a cost of £20 million pounds to monitor how claimants look for work. Result - British data protection laws mean that claimants cannot be forced to allow DWP officials to view their JobMatch accounts and that, in fact, only 40% of claimants allow the DWP to access their JobMatch account.

    Ian Duncan Smith authorises the introduction of work experience schemes for those on job seekers allowance. Result - The Court of Appeal states that the two schemes under consideration were unlawful because the rules that they operated under were not written following the correct procedures.

    When is the Prime Minister going to dismiss Ian Duncan-Smith?

    At what point does the Mr Cameron decide that the costs out weigh the benefits of keeping IDS as head of the DWP? Surely that point has arrived, or do we have to wait for the introduction of the Universal Credit before this man is handed his P45?

    1. Since I registered with the UJM website, I've NEVER been asked for any information so that people at the Job Centre can have a look. Perhaps once UC comes into effect, that might change.

      On another matter (forgive me for going off topic), back in 2011 I was sanctioned for 6 months because I refused to go to A4e and take part in the 13 week course. I might get sanctioned again soon for missing an appointment at A4e on the 2nd of January (yeah, a bit early, right?). I would like to know if I'll get the base sanction or the next one up? If it gets reset each year, then it'll most likely be the base level sanction (4 weeks?). I just don't know is all.

    2. I think (I'm no expert) after 12 months has lapsed since a sanction is imposed, the clock is "reset" so to speak, and the shortest length sanction is imposed. So you should "only" be getting a four week sanction.

    3. That's what I thought as well. Here's to hoping it only ends up being 4 weeks.

  4. Those that have been sanctioned for refusing to go on the work programme OR sanctiioned whilst on it, should make a claim for reimbursement of lost benefit. I'm hopeful the DWP will be flooded with thousands of claims.

  5. 19.29 12/2/13 4 has just reported that the govt has just rewritten the regulations thus ensuring the continuation of their schemes.
    I don't see how this can be back dated though so expect a battle from those who have already been incorrectly sanctioned (and incorrectly mandated to the WP).

    1. Gissajob: Your right, the new regulations can't be backdated. And to the best of limited knowledge on government legislation the new regulations are just a draft, and need to be approved by Parliament before they have any legal authority.

      And as Historian pointed out in her Newsnight piece, 130,00 people on those schemes affected by the Cait Reilly ruling have been sanctioned! I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them taking legal action against the DWP in the near future to get their benefit reimbursed.

  6. Forgive my cynicism but when does the governments appeal reach a kangaroo court?

  7. Mark Hoban how is not WORKING for at least the pathetic minimum wage not exploitation?

  8. i know this is a bit off track, but when i went for my fortnightly signing-on this monday, something quite strange [and a4e related] happened.

    there was an a4e rep in my jobcentre, sitting with my advisor [she had an a4e nametag]. the signing on started off normal enough... a few pleasantries while my advisor logged into my universal-jobmatch account [i know i shouldn't have signed up for it but what's done is done]. anyway, rather than the cursory check he usually gives my account, he begins going over it in depth, asking me about each of the roughly 50 positions i had applied for in the last 2 weeks and checking my activity history and notes [both of which are blank].

    at this point, the a4e staff member asks me if i'm having any problems with the system. i asked her, as politely as i could, what business that was of hers. i have been referred to a4e in the past but was working for 5 months over christmas before signing back on in january so am not currently under their remit.] she seemed a bit taken a back and my advisor apologised on my behalf for my rudeness, which infuriated me, but i gritted my teeth and said nothing.

    the a4e woman said the company was "working with the dwp to enhance the universal jobmatch experience" and was asking if i was having any problems searching for jobs. i said it was obvious that i wasn't [having applied for 50 jobs and securing 2 interviews, one for tomorrow, one for next week.]

    she asked why if i was, and i quote, 'such a genius' when using universal jobmatch, wasn't i filling in the activity history boxes. i said that 1- its not necessary and 2- i got interviews so that can't be bad.

    my advisor congratulated me on this, but suggested that, 'to sharpen my job search skills' i attend an a4e course at the end of next week in their office in the next town over, which takes takes 2 buses and about an hour to get to.

    i told him that i didn't think this was necessary, and the a4e lady immediately began TUTTING at me, and leering over the table to closer inspect my details on the screen. does she have any data protection right to view this info? i wish i had asked at the time but i was bubbling under with anger and it took all my concentration to stop myself giving her a tongue lashing.

    everyone already knows what happened next. i asked my advisor if it was mandatory. he said no, but i could risk a sanction [all very non committal]. i asked if he would sanction me. he said no, all he could do was pass this info to a decision maker. but it wouldn't look good. we dueled in this way for about 5 minutes before i relented and he booked me a place on this job search course with a4e. it's a one time deal, apparently, but i hate it all the same. i won't be signing anything, and thanks to this blogger and the wonderful people who contribute, will do my utmost to give them headaches with data protection letters etc etc.

    if anybody can give me advice on the legality of anything mentioned here, please let me know.

    1. Very interesting. I wonder if JCP is paying A4e to run these "courses" - almost certainly it will be. And the data protection issue is very important; I can't see that she had any right at all to be looking at your details.
      You would be punished if you didn't take part, so comply if at all possible - and keep us posted.


Keep it clean, please. No abusive comments will be approved, so don't indulge in insults. If you wish to contact me, post a comment beginning with "not for publication".