Feck off with your check-off – High Court rules against DWP

High CourtThe “vindictive” removal of the check-off method of collecting union subscriptions in the Department for Work and Pensions has been ruled unlawful after a High Court challenge by the PCS.

Judge Elisabeth Laing agreed with the union that DWP staff had a contractual right to have their subscriptions paid by check-off and it should not have been scrapped without agreement.

The judgement opens the way for the union, which has been forced to spend considerable time and resources re-recruiting tens of thousands of members to pay by direct debit, to claim damages for loss of income. The union is also considering further legal challenges against other government departments that have removed check-off.

Previous Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude called on civil service employers to end the check-off system in what the union has always argued was an unnecessary and vindictive attempt to undermine its finances and break its organisation.

DWP, the largest civil service department, unilaterally ended the arrangement one year ago alongside similar moves by others, including HM Revenue and Customs, Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Defence.

Plans to ban check-off in the rest of the public sector had been included in the Tory’s latest anti-trade union bill but were dropped before it became law, in a concession that came just days before the union’s High Court claim was heard.

In 2013, the Department for Communities and Local Government was landed with a legal bill of around £100,000 after the union successfully challenged its attempt to end check-off.

Following that ruling, then chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander wrote to cabinet colleagues and permanent secretaries in July 2014 to say there was “no fiscal case” for removing check-off.

He added: “I want to make it clear that any department that pursues this policy is doing so at their own legal risk, leaving their department exposed to potential legal costs which they will be expected to meet in full.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It has always been clear that the political decision to remove check-off was unnecessary and vindictive, and we have comprehensively been proved right.

“This is not just a defeat for DWP, it is a victory for all unions over a major injustice. And it is scandalous that taxpayers again face huge legal bills because Tory ministers have an obsession with trying to undermine trade unions in the workplace.”

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