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Employment Law Roundup: Court of Appeal Quashes Government "Workfare" Scheme

The Court of Appeal, reversing the High Court's decision, has quashed the Jobseeker's Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations (SI 2011/917) (the 2011 Regulations), which were made under section 17A of the Jobseekers Act 1995 (the Act). The dispute related to the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme (the Umbrella Scheme), under which jobseekers were in effect being required to carry out unpaid work in order to continue receiving benefits.

The court agreed that people receiving benefits should be required to attempt to find work, and that work schemes legislation needed to be flexible. However, the Umbrella Scheme was not specific enough to satisfy the statutory requirement in section 17A of the Act that work schemes must be "prescribed". Merely naming the scheme in the Regulations and leaving the detail up to the Secretary of State was not sufficient. The 2011 Regulations were therefore unlawful and would be quashed.

In the court's view, arguments under article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of slavery and forced labour) added nothing to the other grounds of challenge. The requirement to do unpaid work would not engage article 4 provided the scheme had been made properly under section 17A of the Act. (R (Reilly and Wilson) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2013] EWCA Civ 66.)

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