The High Court has handed down its judgment on the challenge to the default retirement age of 65 – introduced in 2006 by the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations – brought by the charities Age Concern and Help the Aged in conjunction with the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The challenge was made on the basis that the imposition of the mandatory retirement age meant that the Regulations did not fully implement into UK law EU Council Directive 2000/78, which outlaws age discrimination in employment and vocational training.
The matter was referred to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that a national retirement age may be lawful but must be justified by legitimate social policy objectives, such as those related to employment policy, the labour market or vocational training. It is for the national courts to decide whether a mandatory retirement age can be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
The High Court has now ruled against the charities, rejecting their challenge on the basis that the Government was able to justify the imposition of the mandatory retirement age at the time it was first introduced in 2006. However, the decision might have been different had the legislation been introduced now, as the state of the job market has changed considerably. In reaching its decision, the Court took into account the Government’s recent announcement that it has decided to bring forward, from 2011 to 2010, its promised evidence-based review of the default retirement age. Mr Justice Blake said that he could not presently see how 65 could remain as the default retirement age after the review.
More than 260 cases relating to dismissal on the grounds of retirement at age 65 had been stayed pending the High Court’s ruling. If the ruling stands, these claims are likely to be dismissed.
There are many workers who wish to continue working after the age of 65 but, for the time being, it is not age discrimination for employers to have in place a compulsory retirement age of 65 or older. However, there are statutory procedures that must be followed, which include giving employees at least six months’ notice of their intended date of retirement and notifying them that they have the right to request to continue working beyond either the default retirement age or the normal retirement age set by the employer.