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Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 00:01 GMT
New anti-ageism laws for pensions
Most pension scheme members will see little change
New laws against age discrimination in pension schemes have come into force.

They were due to have been introduced on 1 October, along with other wide-ranging laws on equality at work.

But the government delayed the new pension rules for two months to give it more time to refine them and to give pension schemes time to adapt.

Final government guidance has still to be published but experts say that most schemes will be able to carry on much as before.

Despite this, pension schemes and their advisers have been busy going through their rule books to ensure there are no rules or clauses that could still fall foul of the new laws.

It is a little worrying to find that as many as one in 10 haven't even started to think about the impact of the new laws
Esther White, Eversheds

"Many employers and trustees will already have begun the costly and complex exercise of addressing their pension scheme rules to avoid unlawful age discrimination," says Dr Deborah Cooper, from actuarial firm Mercer.

"The delay in publishing the final guidance may force them to revisit planned amendments, adding unnecessary expense to the compliance process."

Little change

In general, most of the typical practices of pension schemes - which inherently rely on making decisions based on the age of their members - will continue.

The government had always intended that the obligation to eradicate ageism at work should have as little impact as possible on the traditional structure of pension scheme benefits.

Law firm Pinsent Masons says, as a result, schemes can still:

  • have minimum and maximum ages for joining
  • specify a normal retirement date
  • pay early and late retirement pensions
  • pay ill-health early retirement pensions without reduction and/or with enhancement
  • pay early retirement pensions on redundancy without reduction and/or with enhancement
  • for defined benefit schemes, link benefits to service
  • close a scheme to new entrants
  • pay differential increases to pensioners of different ages

The original government guidance published earlier this year had suggested that there might have been some upheaval.

But the threatened changes were watered down during a second round of government consultation, after the delay to the legislation was announced in September.

Despite this, law firm Eversheds has warned that 10% of businesses have still not considered the impact of the new laws.

It pointed to late retirement, flexible retirement and service-related benefits as problem areas where schemes might still find their rules need to be changed.

"It is a little worrying to find that as many as one in 10 haven't even started to think about the impact of the new laws - this could leave many organisations exposed to the risk of an age discrimination claim," said Eversheds' Esther White.

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