Work for your benefit schemes ruled unlawful but on technical points only

Gillian Melville
14th Feb 2013

The Court of Appeal has now overturned Administrative Court's decision that the government’s ‘work for your benefit’ schemes had been confirmed as legitimate.

Employment equality act


In our previous update we reported that the government’s ‘work for your benefit’ schemes had been confirmed as legitimate by the Administrative Court, even if these schemes involved unpaid work. However, the Court of Appeal has now overturned this decision by declaring the majority of such schemes unlawful. It did this on the basis that the government had not complied with its own written policy, and in each case the claimant had either not been correctly notified about their rights to refuse to participate in the scheme, or had not been fully informed about the consequences of refusing.


The ruling was therefore not a complete victory for opponents of the government's workfare programmes as the Court found no overall problem with the concept of unpaid work, arguing that Parliament has the right to create schemes that ‘are designed to assist the unemployed to obtain employment’. Instead, it found the schemes unlawful on the grounds that the Secretary of State had exceeded his powers by creating new schemes without first laying details of them before Parliament.


As a result, almost all of the government's ‘work for your benefit’ schemes were declared unlawful, meaning that thousands of unemployed people could be entitled to financial rebates. However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has stated that it will resist paying out rebates until all legal avenues have been exhausted.


As a consequence of the judgment, the DWP will be issuing fresh regulations in an attempt to comply with the Court's ruling. However, until that time nobody can be forced to participate in schemes declared unlawful, such as the Work Programme and the Community Action Programme.


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