Lawyers warn firms about deluge of ageism claims

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The scrapping of the Default Retirement Age (DRA) will cause a large increase in the number of age discrimination claims made by employees, a law firm has warned.

The DRA legislation, which allowed companies to make staff retire at 65, was officially abandoned by the Government earlier this month as part of its strategy to deal with the challenges of an ageing workforce.

However, according to the commercial law firm EMW, the move will result in the number of age discrimination claims – which have already increased by 164 per cent in the past year – rising sharply.

"The disappearance of the DRA means that employers will find it much harder to retire older staff," said Jon Taylor, head of employment at EMW. "I can understand why the Government is making changes but they should keep it fixed with the rising state-pension age, not abolish it all together."

Government figures show that the number of age discrimination claims made in the last three months of 2010 was 2,900, 164 per cent higher than during the equivalent period in 2009.

This increase, EMW said, was caused by an increased knowledge of age discrimination regulations among workers, thanks in part to high-profile cases such as that brought by the Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly.

The law firm said this greater awareness, combined with the abolition of the DRA, will result in an even bigger rise in the number of claims in the coming year.

Mr Taylor added: "Employees are becoming savvier about age discrimination law. Because older people find it harder to find a new job, they are more likely to make employment tribunal claims if they are made redundant."

Christopher Brooks, a policy advisor for employment and skills at the charity Age UK, agreed that scrapping the DRA could lead to a higher number of claims.

"We have an ageing workforce – by 2020, one-third of workers will be over 50," he said. "It's going to be really important that businesses learn to get the most out of them in their current roles."

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said: "The majority of employers already operate without the DRA but for those that do [the conciliation service] Acas has produced guidance on how to manage their staff without it.

"Even without the DRA it will still be possible to retire staff if this can be objectively justified by the employer."