Thanks to Lucy Boyle of 12 King’s Bench Walk Chambers for preparing this case summary
Does making Jobseeker's Allowance conditional on work or work-related activity constitute forced labour contrary to article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights?
No, according to the Supreme Court in R (on the application of Reilly and another) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
The Respondents participated in "work for your benefit" programmes ("the schemes") implemented under the Jobseeker's Allowance (Schemes for Assisting Persons to Obtain Employment) Regulations 2011. The Regulations were made under section 17A of the Jobseeker's Act 1995. The Respondents issued judicial review claims challenging the legality of the 2011 Regulations and the schemes.
The Court found unanimously that the imposition of a work requirement as a condition of a benefit "comes nowhere close to the type of exploitative conduct at which article 4 is aimed". Further, it was not unlawful for the 2011 Regulations to be enforced in the absence of a published policy on the nature of the schemes and the circumstances in which individuals could be required to undertake unpaid work.
However, the 2011 Regulations were ultra vires because they failed to provide a "prescribed description" of the schemes in accordance with section 17A of the 1995 Act, and there were individual failures to comply with the “notification” and “publication” requirements of the 2011 Regulations in the case of each Respondent.