Blow to forced retirement challenge

23 September 2008
Brits who wish to work beyond the age of 65 have been delivered a blow by a European court adviser, who has rejected a challenge to current employer retirement rules.

Age Concern has been leading a challenge to UK laws, which currently permits employers to force workers to retire at the age of 65. The charity says many people would like to work for longer, and are being discriminated against on the basis on their age.

However, the Advocate General, a senior legal adviser to the European Court of Justice, has disagreed and rejected its challenge.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said the news is a set-back but that the legal challenge still had some way to go.

“The Advocate General's opinion confirms that the EU Directive requires age discrimination to be justified,” he adds. “It’s now up to the UK government to prove to the High Court that its social and employment policies are important enough to justify kicking people out of work at 65. Until then, older workers face more uncertainty about their right to work.”

Around 260 people in Britain currently have cases relating to forced retirement being heard by employment tribunals, but Age Concern says the issue affects millions of workers across the EU.

Lishman says: “This is not a minority issue. In the UK ageism is already the most commonly experienced form of prejudice and more than a million people are already working past state pension age.”

Heyday, an organisation for people in or approaching retirement, is backing Age Concern’s challenge.

Ailsa Olgive, director of Heyday, explains: “We are challenging this law because it is costing good workers their jobs.”

If the European Court takes up the opinion of its Advocate General and rejects the challenge, then the case will have to go back to the High Court in London for a final decision.

Olgive adds: “We hope the High Court would not want to remove the choice for people to work in later life if they wish to or if they need to. Denying people work because of their date of birth is grossly unfair, and in these tough times we expect more people will need to carry on working into ‘retirement’ in order to make ends meet.”

However, the Confederation of British Industry says current laws are vital for businesses to be able to control their workforce.

Know your rights

On 1 October 2006, the government introduced legal protection against age discrimination. This means that employers cannot deny a job, training or promotion to someone on the basis of their age. The law applies to all private and public employers and cover employees of any age.

When it comes to retirement, the law states that employers can force workers to retire at the age of 65. However, you do have the right to request to keep on working and your employer has a duty to consider this request.

Employers can only retire people below the age of 65 if they can show that having a lower retirement age is “appropriate and necessary”.

If a company does decide to retire someone aged over 65 then they must give them between six and 12 months' written notice.

Should the worker request to continue working beyond the compulsory retirement age then their employer must consider this and provide a response - although they do not have to give reasons for their decision. Workers also have the right to appeal this.

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