JOBSEEKERS TRY TO OVERTURN NAZI DWP SNEAKY LAW DENYING BENEFIT REBATES OVER UNPAID SLAVE LABOUR
Jobseekers try to overturn law denying them benefit rebates
Lawyers say Iain Duncan Smith undermined jobseekers’ rights with legislation allowing DWP to ignore court judgments
The Guardian, Tuesday 11 June 2013 13.22 BST
Iain Duncan Smith and parliament have conspired to undermine the basic rights of hundreds of thousands of jobseekers by enacting retrospective emergency legislation, according to the contents of a legal filing sent to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Lawyers acting on behalf of three jobseekers including Cait Reilly – the unemployed graduate forced to work unpaid in Poundland – are hoping to overturn a controversial law introduced by the DWP in March which allowed the department to ignore court judgments awarding more than £100m in benefits rebates to a quarter of a million jobseekers.
With support from Labour, the jobseekers (back to work schemes) bill was rushed through parliament in just three days in order to strike down a ruling from three appeal court judges who found that half a dozen of the government’s employment schemes, which made jobseekers work unpaid under threat of having benefits stripped, were operating outside of the law.
At the time the DWP said the bill would “protect taxpayers” and would ensure the department “won’t be paying back money to people who didn’t do enough to find work”.
In a 25-page letter submitted before lodging a judicial review in the high court, the solicitors Public Interest Lawyers argue that by retrospectively overturning a court ruling, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, flagrantly denied hundreds of thousands of jobseekers access to justice under article 6 of the European convention on human rights.
They also argue that under the same convention, their clients’ right to property was abused.
One of the claimants in the case, Manuela Aleo, 35, says she was stripped of her jobseeker’s allowance after lodging a complaint to jobcentre managers about being made to work unpaid in the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London.
According to the legal notice, Aleo, who worked in retail for six years in Milan and then as an au pair for around six months in London before becoming unemployed, has run up debts after the month-long sanction imposed earlier this year.
In the letter, her lawyers say: “Ms Aleo wishes to recover the benefits which were unlawfully stripped from her.”
A second claimant, Daniel Hewstone, 28, was sanctioned for almost six months after complaining that he was being made to fork out for his own travel expenses while being made to clean graffiti.
Despite winning an appeal in a social security tribunal which reimbursed his benefits, solicitors argue that Hewstone is being denied justice after the introduction of retroactive legislation overturned that compensation award.
Served upon DWP officials on Tuesday morning, the letter read: “The action of the secretary of state … represents a clear violation of article 6.
“The secretary of state procured parliament’s intervention in order to resolve a judicial review, to which he was a party, in his favour, before its final conclusion.
“Parliament intervened in these proceedings in order to retrospectively supply an interpretation to one of its own previous acts of parliament despite the fact that under the separation of powers it falls to the courts to interpret and apply legislation.”
The letter goes on to say that the emergency legislation “frustrates the rights of the claimants to claim back the subsistence-level benefits which the court of appeal ruled were unlawfully stripped from them and, in the case of Ms Reilly, frustrates her right to claim compensation” for being made to undertake unlawful tasks.
The supreme court has also confirmed that it will hear an appeal mounted by the DWP in the initial case involving Reilly. This is due to be heard in full in July and reopens the possibility that the highest court in the UK could again outlaw all benefit punishments meted out by Duncan’s Smith’s department since 2011.
Tessa Gregory, from Public Interest Lawyers, said her firm would be launching a judicial review in two weeks unless Duncan Smith backed down and repealed the act.
“This was a flagrant abuse of power,” she said. “It interfered in an ongoing judicial process and deprived our clients of their right to claim back what was wrongly taken from them. Contrary to the assurances Iain Duncan Smith gave parliament, the legislation is not compatible with the Human Rights Act and it is in clear breach of EU law.
“Unless the DWP seeks the repeal of the act and accepts that it is unlawful, we will issue judicial review proceedings.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “The Jobseekers Act 2013 is about helping as many people off benefits and into work as possible and was supported by parliament. As always we will defend our policies – and the taxpayer – against any potential legal challenge.”