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Volunteer forced to work at Poundland for free wins landmark case in appeal court

Cait Reilly was told she had to work at the shop or face losing her benefits, and the High Court backed ministers - now the Court of Appeal has reversed the decision

High Court
High Court

A museum volunteer who was told she had to work unpaid at Poundland or face losing her benefits has won her case at the Court of Appeal.

Cait Reilly, a volunteer at the Pen Museum in Birmingham, was told in autumn 2011 that she had to stop volunteering and complete unpaid work experience at Poundland as part of back-to-work training or she would lose her Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Reilly contested the order and took her case to the High Court, claiming it was a breach of her human rights. The High Court rejected her case last summer, but Reilly and unemployed HGV driver Jamie Wilson took their case to the Court of Appeal.

In a judgment published today, the Court of Appeal upheld the claim and the three judges ruled that some of the regulations that underpin the back-to-work schemes were unlawful and must be quashed. 

Public Interest Lawyers, solicitors for both Reilly and Wilson, said the judgment meant people would be free to leave work placements immediately without any sanction on their benefits.

"All of those who have been stripped of their benefits have a right to claim the money back that has been unlawfully taken away from them by the Department for Work and Pensions," said Tessa Gregory, a solicitor for the firm.

In a statement issued by Public Interest Lawyers, Reilly said she was delighted with the judgment.

"I brought this case because I knew it was wrong when I was prevented from doing my voluntary work in a museum and forced to work in Poundland for free for two weeks as part of a scheme known as the sector-based work academy," she said. "The only beneficiary was Poundland, a multimillion pound company."

The DWP, which is seeking permission to appeal, said the court ruling still gave it the right to require people to take part in programmes that would help them to find work. But the department acknowledged that the judgment meant it would have to redraft regulations surrounding the back-to-work scheme.

"We are disappointed and surprised at the court's decision on our regulations," said a statement from Mark Hoban, an employment minister. "We do not agree with the court's judgment and are seeking permission to appeal, but new regulations will be tabled to avoid any uncertainty."

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