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U.K. Court Rules Unpaid Employment Programs Are Illegal

A U.K. government plan forcing the unemployed to work for free by threatening to halt benefit payments is illegal, an appeals court ruled.

Regulations designed by the government to “revive the work habit” didn’t give enough information to job-seekers, Judge Malcolm Pill said in a written decision in London today.

The case was filed by former museum curator Caitlin Reilly and truck driver Jamieson Wilson, who sued after refusing to take part in a government program involving unpaid work at retail stores such as those owned by Poundland Holdings Ltd. while looking for permanent positions.

“Nobody can be lawfully forced to participate” in the government’s Work Program or Community Action Program, Tessa Gregory, a lawyer for Reilly and Wilson, said in a statement. “All of those who have been stripped of their benefits have a right to claim the money back.”

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said the government will appeal the ruling and new legislation will be drawn up so that the current back-to-work programs wouldn’t be affected.

“Ultimately the judgment confirms that it is right that we expect people to take getting into work seriously if they want to claim benefits,” Hoban said.

Reilly was made to stack shelves in a Poundland store for two weeks, while Wilson was stripped of his unemployment benefits after refusing to work unpaid for 30 hours a week for six months, their lawyers said.

“It is pointless to force people to work for no pay in jobs that do nothing to help them while putting others at risk of unemployment,” Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said in an e-mailed statement.

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