Only law change can now help age challengers

Author: By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor

The High Court today upheld the law which permits UK employers to force
workers to retire at the age of 65.

But in his ruling the judge said that there was a compelling case for a change
in the compulsory retirement age. The Government has agreed to bring forward
its review of the law which many pensioners and age-concern charities
believe will lead to an increase in the age of compulsory retirement.

The fate of millions of people who want or need to work beyond the age of 65
now lies directly in the hands of MPs and peers? claimed Age Concern and
Help the Aged who had brought the legal challenge.

Andrew Harrop? head of public policy at Age Concern and Help the Aged, said:
?The ruling does not spell the end of our campaign to win justice for older
workers ? in fact? we will be stepping up our fight to get this outdated
legislation off the statute book. Despite the judgement today? ministers
still have the opportunity this side of a crucial general election to give
real help to people in their 60s by outlawing forced retirement. They should
amend the Equality Bill which is currently making its way through
Parliament.?

The charity brought the case against the UK Government in summer 2006, arguing
that the retirement age was in breach of European Union law.

Employees have the right to request to continue working beyond the date when
the employer wants them to retire, but the employer can refuse the request
and the law does not require them to give any reason for that decision. An
employer can also refuse to recruit anyone over the age of 65.

A judgement from the European Court of Justice in March this year confirmed
that the UK Government would have to robustly justify why such a policy was
needed.

The charity said it took the case to the High Court because thousands of
dedicated and experienced employees are being arbitrarily sacked purely on
the basis of age? even though they want to work and can prove their
competence. This completely undermines and contradicts the Government?s aim
of encouraging longer working lives.

Joanna Blackburn, head of employment law at City firm Mishcon de Reya, said
that the compulsory retirement age of 65 was unlikely to remain for much
longer.

?The fact that the High Court has indicated that any attempt to retain the
retirement age at 65 beyond that review was unlikely to meet the requirement
for the retirement age to be proportionate is likely to be a further spur
for change. Retaining the status quo beyond the review is likely to mean
that the retirement age would fall foul of the age discrimination laws.?

The ruling means that more than 260 cases pending in tribunals are now likely
to be dismissed. These pensioners had been seeking compensation for
discrimination.

The majority of people retire before 65, but 1.4 million people work beyond
state pension age. It has been suggested that many more would if their
employer permitted it.

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