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Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.
Know your rights on workfare schemes and at the Jobcentre!
Court of Appeal says the government breached claimants’ rights, but the retrospective legislation stands
Posted: April 30th, 2016 | Author: againstworkfare | Filed under: Info on schemes, Uncategorized | No Comments »
retroSanctions2At the Court of Appeal on Friday the government lost part of its grubby legal battle to stop claimants getting back benefit payments that were unlawfully taken from them.
The government was appealing a High Court judgement, which said that the emergency retrospective legislation the government rushed through in 2013 was ‘draconian’ and incompatible with the right to a fair trial. The Court of Appeal rejected the government’s appeal against the High Court judgement. It says the legislation is okay according to English law, but that it shouldn’t have applied to all sanctions, because this meant that claimants who were waiting for the results of appeals against sanctions found their cases automatically decided in favour of the DWP. The legislation meant that people were automatically sanctioned even when the DWP’s own appeals process would have overturned the sanction.
That emergency legislation – the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 – rewrote history. It made it so that workfare regulations made in 2011 were lawful and had always been lawful, even though the court of appeal had said that they weren’t. Those regulations made it possible to sanction people for not taking part. So the retrospective legislation meant that all the sanctions the government had imposed under the 2011 regulations, in one block, were valid, along with the regulations – even the sanctions that would have been unlawful under the old regulations anyway. This meant, in turn, that ongoing appeals against sanctions, most of which would have succeeded before the Act was passed, were bound to fail. (Challenges to sanctions have about a 70% success rate at the moment.) Public Interest Lawyers explain more about this background here.
The Court of Appeal agrees with the High Court judgement that in cases where people had already appealed against their sanctions, the 2013 act was incompatible with European Convention on Human Rights. But it didn’t agree that the whole act was unlawful: it said that when Parliament enacted the retrospective legislation to validate sanctions which were unlawful at the time they were imposed, Parliament was ‘successful in doing so as a matter of English law’.
It’s not yet clear how anyone can go about getting their money back. Although the Court found the legislation incompatible with the ECHR, it’s still left up to the government how to respond. You could try the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who can investigate government departments and services like the Jobcentre when they haven’t acted properly. We’re waiting for legal advice about this at the moment.
The DWP says that to pay all claimants back the money they are owed would cost £130 million. They harp on the ‘undeserved windfall’ this would be for claimants; how difficult it would be to find the cash in these times of austerity. Fortunately, £130 million is also exactly how much the government’s new workfare scheme, the ‘Work and Health Programme’, will cost each year. Obviously, there is a simple solution. The government should scrap the new programme – along with all workfare schemes, sanctions, and benefit conditionality – and pay the money back to the people from whom it was unlawfully taken: the claimants whose rights were denied by the retrospective legislation in 2013, which affected an estimated 179,000 people.