Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013

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The Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013[1] is an emergency Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom introduced to the House of Commons in March 2013.[2] It retrospectively changed the law to make past actions of the government which the courts had found unlawful to be lawful. As of July 2014, the Act has itself been found to be unlawful, contravening Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Content and passage of the Bill[edit]

Related to programmes through the United Kingdom's Coalition Government's "Work Programme",[3] created by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Jobseeker's (Back to Work Schemes) Bill addressed situations where Jobseeker's Allowance claimants may be asked to work without pay in some circumstances.[4]

The Bill was drafted as a direct result of a court case against the Government lodged by Caitlin Reilly and Jamieson Wilson.[5] They won their case that the "Work Programme" schemes had not been enacted and implemented entirely lawfully, implying that the state should repay benefits unlawfully withheld from claimants.[6] The DWP reacted to confirm that existing regulations would be tightened up to retain the scheme, saying that only those "serious in finding work" would continue to claim benefits.[7]

Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith confirmed in media interviews that the Jobseeker's (Back to Work Schemes) Bill was drafted in reaction to the court case, as he wanted to deal with people he said thought they "were too good" for such schemes.[8] The Bill was introduced before the appeal process in Reilly and Jamieson's case was complete. The Bill was "introduced to avoid the need to repay claimants who have been sanctioned for failure to comply with requirements under the ESE Regulations".[9] "ESE Regulations" are those contained in the The Jobseeker's Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011.[10]

The process for drafting and debating the Bill received criticism, as it would effectively reverse the court of appeal's decision and penalise people who were not acting unlawfully at the time.[11] Civil rights organisations linked such moves with oppressive regimes.[12]

Progress through Parliament[edit]

Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey said the Bill was about 'giving jobseekers the best possible way to find employment'. The "second reading" stage was passed by 277 votes to 57.[13] Forty members of the opposition Labour Party opposed the Bill.[14] The Labour Party largely abstained from voting on the Bill, which was seen as effectively supporting the measure.[15]

The second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords attracted a number of scathing comments from legislators for its retrospective changing of the law, allowing benefits claimants to be penalised for actions which had proved legal at the time when they were taken.[16]

The Bill passed its third reading by 263 votes to 52 on 19 March 2013.[17]

Appeal against the Bill[edit]

The law firm acting for Reilly and Wilson, Public Interest Lawyers, lodged submissions to the supreme court, arguing that 'the actions of the secretary of state … represent a clear violation of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the rule of law, as an interference in the judicial process by the legislature'.[18] On Friday 4 July 2014, Mrs Justice Lang, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled that the retrospective nature of the legislation interfered with Reilly's right to a fair trial under Article Six of the Convention on Human Rights.[19] The government announced that it would appeal this ruling.[20]