Work for Benefits - Slave Labour?

As part of two separate schemes  under the Job Seekers Employment and Enterprise Regulations 2011 to help recipients of Job Seekers Allowance back to work, individuals were required to take part in schemes that involved them undertaking unpaid work. Refusal to participate for a period of between 1-26 weeks can result in a loss of benefits.

Two recipients refused on the basis that this amounted to slave labour and a breach of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour.

One of these recipients was Miss Reilly, who was a geology graduate who refused to work in Poundland for two weeks. The other was Mr Wilson, an HGV driver who was required to work for 30 hours a week for 26 weeks for an organisation delivering refurbished furniture to the needy in the community.    

The Administrative Court  heard their applications for judicial review  together in R (on behalf of Reilly & Wilson) v Department of Work and Pensions. The Court accepted that the objection to doing the work was not so that the recipients could remain idle on benefits, but because the required work impeded them in their search for work in their chosen careers. The court held that although views may differ about the merits of a scheme that requires individuals to 'work for their benefits' as a means of assisting them back into the workplace, such schemes could not be said to amount to 'slavery' or 'forced labour'

If you wish to discuss any matter arising from this article or any other employment problem please contact Janet Long by email  to

The contents of this article are intended for general information only. It is not a substitute for legal advice, and shall not be deemed to be or constitute legal advice.  We therefore cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. We will, however, be pleased to advise you on the specific facts of your case