Page last updated at 16:52 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 17:52 UK

Retirement age row back in court

Elderly man working in Asda
Charities want an end to forced retirement in the UK

A challenge - led by major charities - to the UK's enforceable retirement age of 65 is back at the High Court.

The battle, led by Age Concern and Help the Aged, aims to establish whether it is legal for UK employers to force workers to retire at the age of 65.

EU judges said the practice was legal if it had a legitimate aim, but it was up to the UK's High Court to decide if the age limit was justified.

The government is planning to bring forward a retirement age review.

'Costly nightmare'

As the law stands, a British employer can dismiss a member of staff without redundancy payments on that person's 65th birthday.

THE STORY SO FAR...
In the UK, a worker can see their employment end at the age of 65 without any redundancy payment - even if they do not want to retire.
A number of court cases are continuing that challenge this rule, most notably the case spearheaded by Age Concern and Help the Aged which has returned to the High Court this week. This aims to clarify whether the enforceable retirement age is legal.
However, the government has said it will bring forward a review of the retirement age to 2010, a move that some commentators say signals the end of the default retirement age in the UK as we know it.

Age Concern maintains that this is in breach of the EU's Equal Treatment at Work Directive and said one in eight MPs would be out of a job immediately if the rule applied to them.

Kate Hodgkiss, employment partner at DLA Piper said: "If the default retirement age of 65 is ruled out, organisations will have an enormous challenge to establish and explain their own bespoke retirement age."

"Some businesses may end up having to justify each individual employee's retirement to avoid discrimination claims, which could leave employers with a costly administrative nightmare to manage."

The European judges said that the enforceable retirement age could remain if it had a "legitimate aim" linked to social or employment policy.

But the UK government still has to justify its policy of allowing forced retirement at the High Court.

About 260 legal actions are pending in tribunals and thousands more pensioners who were forced to retire against their will have compensation claims waiting if the High Court's final ruling decides the compulsory retirement age is not justified.

Review

The majority of people retire before 65, but 1.3 million people work beyond state pension age. It has been suggested that many more would if their employer permitted it.

Earlier in the week, the government announced it was bringing forward a review of the compulsory retirement age anyway, by a year to 2010.

"We have heard a lot from government over the last few days about the retirement age, but ministers have dragged their heels for years on this issue, forcing us to challenge it in the UK courts on behalf of older people across the country," said Michelle Mitchell, charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged.

"The promised review in 2010 is a step in the right direction, but it does not come soon enough for thousands of people reaching 65 now who desperately need to carry on working to pay the bills, boost their pensions or simply because they want to."

The government points out that existing employment equality regulations do give employees the right to formally request to carry on working beyond 65.

Separately, the Court of Appeal is hearing a legal challenge to the default retirement age in a case backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

A solicitor, Leslie Seldon, believes he was discriminated against on the grounds of age when he was not permitted to work beyond the age of 65. He says he needed to go on working to support his family.



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