Default retirement age legal....At least for now

The Hey Day legal challenge brought by recently merged charities Help the Aged and Age Concern has been defeated in the High Court. The charities had sought to overturn the governments default retirement age (DRA) policy, a policy which allows employers to force staff to give up their jobs even if they are able and willing to continue working.

Having already suffered the blow of the European Courts not finding the DRA a direct breach of the Equal Treatment Directive, The charities last hope was the UK Courts finding our mandatory retirement laws out of touch with domestic employment and social policy interests.  Only on these grounds could the DRA have been scrapped by the High Court having then been a breach of the European Union’s Equal Treatment Directive.

The High Court ruled that the DRA was legitimate and proportionate when the policy was introduced based on the evidence available to the government back in 2006. On delivering the ruling Mr Justice Blake added that had the DRA been set at 65 in 2009 it probably would not be legitimate now based on compelling evidence that had been presented in the proceedings.  He commented "I cannot presently see how 65 could remain as a DRA after the review." Furthermore he added had the government not brought forward its review of the DRA from 2011 to 2010 his decision may have been different.

Employers are expressing relief as many would have been forced to retain staff in the current economic climate or pay off staff that had been mistreated as a result of the policy. This comes as no surprise as a recent survey conducted by UK law firm Eversheds found that three-quarters of employers wished to retain a default retirement age. It seems that employers want to be able to decide if a member of staff is able and willing to work beyond what society sees as an acceptable retirement age. Currently employees have a legal right to “request” working beyond the DRA but employers can refuse these requests with no explanation.

Equality campaigners are obviously disappointed as there is a very clear and present injustice with a policy which allows discrimination on the basis of age, very inconsistent with the governments “Fair Britain” stance. The Age and Employment Network one of Britain’s leading thought leaders in this area aptly commented  

“For too long the Government has been using the pending court case as a fig leaf pretending it prevented them from saying anything, sharing anything or discussing anything in connection with the review of the default retirement age. Now the decks are cleared, though Mr Justice Blake has made it pretty clear he would have ruled against the Government if they had not already announced the review. So, we stand ready to parade the evidence of the damage this ill-advised provision is doing to individuals who want and need to work beyond 65 as well as to the national economy. This is no time to squander talent and skills in this pointless way. Let’s get on with it!”

Comment made by Chris Ball Chief Executive of TAEN 

While employers may be jubilant about the ruling, it’s quite clear that it is only a matter of time before the DRA is reviewed, or even scrapped. Of course this will offer little comfort to those who were hoping the outcome of the ruling would deliver a reprieve now.


posted by

Asif Yusuf



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