Government’s back to work schemes ruled unlawful without rights to refuse
13 February 2013
Reilly & Anor, R (On the Application of)  EWHC Civ 66 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that regulations under the Jobseekers Act 1995 were unlawful as not meeting the requirements of that statute.
This was an appeal against a decision by Foskett J that the regulations were lawful. The two appellants were unemployed and claiming the Jobseekers’s Allowance. After refusing to participate in schemes under the Regulations in which they were required to work for no pay ( the Sector-Based Work Academy in Miss Reilly’s case and the Community Action Programme (CAP) in Mr Wilson’s), they were told that they risked losing their allowance. Miss Reilly’s scheme involved working at Poundland for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, and it became apparent that it involved no training element. She complained that the scheme impeded her voluntary efforts to maintain and advance her primary career ambition (working in a museum) and, having embarked on the scheme, she found that it did not offer any worthwhile experience on an alternative career path. Mr Wilson did not participate in his CAP scheme at all because it yielded no pay and lasted 26 weeks, and, most importantly, that it would not lead to any “concrete benefit” in the job market.
Section 19(5) of the Act specifies the circumstances in which a Jobseekers’ Allowance is not payable, including where the claimant “has, without good cause, refused or failed to carry out any jobseeker’s direction which was reasonable, has, without good cause, neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of a place on a training scheme or employment programme”.
The appeal was allowed.
Reasons behind the judgment
The Court accepted the need for a policy imposing requirements on persons receiving a substantial weekly sum, potentially payable for life. Pill LJ, giving the leading judgment, also appreciated the need for flexibility in devising arrangements which will achieve the statutory purpose of improving prospects of obtaining employment.
Claimants should be required to participate in arrangements which may improve their prospects of obtaining remunerative employment.
The problem with these particular schemes is that they did not, in the words of the Act, “assist [claimants] to obtain employment” or improve “their prospects of obtaining employment”, both expressions appearing in Section 17A. As a matter of statutory construction it was not possible to conclude that the Regulations met these statutory requirements. Simply to give a scheme a name could not, in context, be treated as a prescribed description of a scheme in which claimants could be required to participate, within Section 17A(1) of the Act. The statutory requirement was that the prescribed description was in the regulations: arrangements were not made by the secretary of state in accordance with regulations unless the statutory requirement for schemes of a prescribed description was met in the regulation itself. Since the central purpose was to impose “requirements” on claimants, with sanctions for failure to comply, the Regulations had to be ruled unlawful.
The Court rejected the appellants’ second argument, that these schemes could not be imposed without a formal policy statement from the secretary of state. The policy was stated in the statute. What was required was that appropriate statements of the types of arrangement to be made and on offer were made publicly available, and that an individual claimant, before embarking on an arrangement, was aware of his obligations.
The human rights ground did not add anything independently of the other grounds. In relation to unpaid work, provided that the arrangements made served the statutory purpose of s.17A, they did not necessarily infringe Article 4. Pill LJ referred to Van der Mussele v Belgium (8919/80) (1984) 6 EHRR 163 where the Strasbourg Court rejected the submission that there had been a breach of that Article when a pupil Avocat was compelled by regulations of the Order of Advocates to assist those in need of legal aid and represent clients without payment if so directed by the Order. But that was because the services fell within the ambit of the normal activities of an Avocat, so a compensatory factor was to be found in the advantages attaching to the profession and the services therefore contributed to the applicant’s training. This was very much not the case in relation to the schemes under challenge here.
Sir Stanley Burnton added that he was at pains to emphasise that this case was not about the social, economic, political or other merits of the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme.
Parliament is entitled to authorise the creation and administration of schemes that, in the words of section 17A(1) of the 1995 Act, are designed to assist the unemployed to obtain employment, and provided that the schemes are appropriate for that purpose, it is not easy to see what objection there could be to them. Parliament is equally entitled to encourage participation in such schemes, by imposing sanctions, in terms of jobseekers’ allowance, on those who without good cause refuse to participate in a suitable scheme. This appeal is solely about the lawfulness of the Regulations made by the Secretary of State in purported pursuance of the powers granted by the 1995 Act as amended.
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