Next week, on 26 and 27 June 2012 the High Court in London will consider a legal challenge to the legality of the Government’s flagship "Back to work" schemes forcing unemployed people to work or lose their benefits. The hearing will commence at 10:30 am on 26 June. If it succeeds the court will quash the regulations under which the schemes are made and Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, will be sent back to the drawing board.
The claim is brought by two individuals who have been subject to very different schemes under the 2011 Regulations. The first claimant Cait Reilly, participated in the "sector based work academy" scheme against her wishes. She was forced to leave her voluntary work at a local museum to work in Poundland stacking shelves for two weeks.
The second Claimant refused to participate in a scheme known as the "Community Action Programme" when he was told that he had to work, cleaning furniture, without pay for 30 hours per week for six months. No detailed information or guidance was provided to him about the scheme itself and he has recently been informed that he is being stripped of his Job Seekers Allowance for six months because he refused to participate in the scheme.
The Claimants, represented by Public Interest Lawyers, argue that:
the Governing primary legislation, s.17A of the Jobseeker’s Allowance Act 1995 requires all schemes implemented by the Secretary of State to be set out in the regulations. However the 2011 regulations fail to do this and instead leave the design of the schemes entirely to the Secretary of State from time to time. The Claimants say that this was contrary to what Parliament intended.
The Government has failed to publish any policies setting out the scope of the schemes.
The requirement to carry out mandatory work is contrary to Article 4 of the ECHR which prohibits compulsory labour.
The result is that the Government is using vague and open-ended regulations to create a plethora of very different schemes without publishing clear guidance as to what the schemes entail. Complete confusion has ensued over what individuals can be asked to do as evidenced by the recent debacle over the Queen's Jubilee where those under the "Work Programme" (another scheme made under the 2011 Regulations) were required to work 14 hour shifts as security guards after sleeping rough under London Bridge.
The first claimant, Cait Reilly, together with her solicitor Tessa Gregory will make a statement on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice at approximately 9:45 am on 26 June 2012.