Default retirement age on the way out, despite High Court ruling

The days are numbered for the UK’s default retirement age (DRA) despite today’s High Court ruling that it is legal for employers to force workers to retire at age 65.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is to ask the government to abolish the DRA using the Equality Bill, which is soon to be debated in the House of Lords, rather than wait until a review of the policy next year.

Although Justice Blake ruled that the DRA was lawful when first introduced in 2006, he stated there was now a “compelling” case for setting the age higher than 65. In his judgment he stated: “I cannot presently see how 65 could remain as a DRA after the review.”

John Wadham, legal group director at the equality watchdog, said the law should support those who wished to carry on working and making an economic contribution.

There are 1.4 million people working past state pension age, according to the most recent labour market figures from the Office of National Statistics. This is up from 1.2 million people the year before.

“Many employers have said they think that having a mandatory retirement age is more trouble than it’s worth,” Wadham said. “The judge has sent out a strong signal that it is only a matter of time before the default retirement age is removed.

“The government’s promised review has already been brought forward to 2010 but it could act sooner to strike the DRA out of the rule books using the Equality Bill.”

Age Concern and Help the Aged, the two charities which brought the so-called Heyday case, also called on ministers to amend the legislation.

The CIPD – which has backed the removal of the DRA – said the High Court had “missed a trick” to resolve the issue once and for all. Diversity adviser Dianah Worman said: “The government itself has admitted that the days of the DRA are numbered.

“It seems counter-intuitive to drag this decision out even further while thousands of older people will be forced out of work in an already difficult jobs market.”

“As the HR body we do not buy the HR argument that businesses can’t manage their workforce without the DRA. If you have poor performers in your organisation you should also have the performance management systems to deal with them. You wouldn’t wait 25 years to remove a poor performing 40 year-old.”

But Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the right decision had been made: “Employees already have the right to request to postpone their retirement, and we believe the existing rules allow for the fairest outcome on both sides,” he said.

Employment lawyers warned that if Age Concern appealed the judge’s decision, hundreds of retirement-related tribunal cases would remain on hold..

Our campaign to force the government to ditch the DRA goes on. Register your support by signing our petition on the Number 10 website.

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