The Department of Work and Pensions spent nearly £100,000 on legal fees in an attempt to derail attempts to find out which organisations were benefiting from controversial workfare schemes.
In January 2012, Boycott Workfare campaigners submitted a Freedom of Information request seeking the identities of all UK organisations who were participating in workfare schemes. Boycott Workfare claimed that the schemes exploited the labour of social security claimants as people placed on them had little choice but to work on allocated placements. If claimants refused to participate, the DWP could withhold their benefits.
The DWP fought disclosure of the information, repeatedly arguing that anti-workfare campaigners would use the information to pressure providers, adding that this would “prejudice the commercial interests” of participating organisations, or, in the case of charity participants, they would lose volunteers or donations.
It took until June 2016 for the FOI appeal to wend it’s way through the courts with the DWP eventually losing the argument and ordered to release the information.
Ironically, it took another FOI request from Boycott Workfare campaigners to unearth the cost to the tax payer of this fruitless legal fight. The final cost? £92,249.86
One campaign group estimated the figure to be equivalent to 24 years worth of Job Seekers Allowance.
— refuted (@refuted) August 23, 2016
The DWP response said: “This figure includes litigation costs as well as Counsel and court fees.” It is likely to underestimate the total cost to the taxpayer, as other publicly funded bodies, such as the Information Commissioners Office will also have had to invest considerable resources in the case.
Earlier this year The Ferret published the complete list when it was made public, as well as the ensuing controversy when some Scottish charities claimed, wrongly as it turned out, that they been placed on the list by accident.