Employers can force staff to retire at 65

Pensioners who claimed Britain was guilty of age discrimination lose their legal battle after ruling by European Court of Justice

Tens of thousands of pensioners who want the right to continue working beyond the compulsory retirement age have lost their legal battle to change the law.

Judges sitting at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rejected claims that the UK policy on retirement at 65 amounted to age discrimination.

They ruled that as long as the rules were based on a "legitimate aim" linked to social or employment policy, the Government had not breached the Equal Treatment Directive.

The UK's Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, introduced in 2006, ban age discrimination but exclude pensioners, who can be dismissed at 65 without redundancy payments, or at the employer's mandatory retirement age if it is above 65.

The verdict in Luxembourg amounts to a defeat for Age Concern's legal battle to banish enforced retirement at 65, but the final decision still rests with the High Court in London.

The opposite decision would have most likely led to a glut of age discrimination claims. About 260 employees were thought to be sitting on age discrimination and unfair dismissal cases, awaiting the verdict.

Yesterday's ruling received a mixed response from pensioner campaign groups and company bosses.

Age Concern's director general, Gordon Lishman, said: "We are disappointed with the ECJ's judgment which sends the message that ageism is less important than other forms of discrimination, but we will continue our fight to ensure that older British workers are judged on their skills and abilities rather than their age.

"The Government continues to consign tens of thousands of willing and able older workers to the scrapheap. It is time for ministers to find the courage of their convictions and abolish the default retirement age without further delay."

But the CBI's director general David Frost said the ruling was "the right decision". He said: "The vast majority of businesses value their older employees and the considerable experience that they can bring to a firm. The right to request a postponement to retirement already exists, so there is no need to try to remove what should be a normal process of communication between employer and employee. The existing rules allow for the fairest outcome on both sides."

The Government argues that, under the current rules, retirement ages are lifted on a voluntary basis. A Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform spokesman said: "We welcome the ruling that the UK's default retirement age is in line with EU law. The default retirement age is a tool that employers can use to plan their workforce, but many choose not to use it and the Government does not set a mandatory retirement age."

The High Court, which sent the case to Luxembourg for clarification of the law, will now have to make a final ruling on whether the aims of the Government's 65 retirement age are "legitimate".

Yesterday's judgment made it clear that EU governments were not required under the equality rules to draw up a specific list of the differences in treatment which they consider to be "justified by a legitimate aim". It went on: "The court notes that the aims which may be considered 'legitimate' by the directive, and, consequently, appropriate for the purposes of justifying derogation from the principle prohibiting discrimination on grounds of age, are social policy objectives, such as those related to employment policy, the labour market or vocational training."

The Liberal Democrat MEP Liz Lynne spoke of a "bitter blow" for older people and urged the Government to change the law: "It has always seemed wrong to me that just because someone reaches 60 or 65, they can be thrown on the employment scrapheap. We must continue to work to end the sudden cliff edge of retirement that forces people to stop working at a certain age whether they want to or not, whilst ensuring that individuals still remain entitled to a state pension at an agreed statutory age."

Case study: 'They said if they gave in the floodgates would open'

John Telfer, 66, remembers the first day he started work 50 years ago as an assistant to the governors of a school in south London. Since then he has barely been out of employment. He says he has been so busy he has hardly given a thought to retirement.

Two years ago, as he was reaching retirement age, he was told by Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, where he has been the warden of the halls of residence for 14 years, that his working days were over. "They said that they had the right to enforce the rules... It was a bit of a shock."

Many of the students even wrote to the university seeking a reprieve for their warden.

Mr Telfer, one of 250 pensioners bringing legal claims against their employers for age discrimination, says he would have sought a compromise with the university. "But they said if they gave in to me the floodgates would open. Then they said the union would object. I don't think either argument is true."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen