Despite the fuss about extra burdens that the Age Discrimination Regulations were feared to place on business, the regulations have not proved a problem as a quick look at the number of claims (just reported) shows – 972 were submitted in the six months from October to the end of March 2007.
Scale this up, and you are looking at around 2,000 accepted claims a year – small beer compared with the 44,491 unfair dismissal claims, or the 132,577 claims in all categories.
Of course, even small numbers of claims could prove expensive if they turned out to warrant five-figure awards. On present evidence, however, the regulations are a pussy cat. Of the 135 disposed of before the end of March 2007, 51 were withdrawn, 56 settled with the help of Acas, and 11 struck out. This leaves 17 cases that went to a hearing of the employment tribunal, of which none were successful.
So is age discrimination a chimera? Not likely. People are, so far at least, having problems putting together strong evidentially supported claims. A lack of experience? Shortage of good advice? Or perhaps it all comes down to excellent HR managers doing their jobs well.
One thing is clear, though. In the area where they appear to have the most conspicuously well-founded complaints – around retirement – virtually nothing can be done to prevent arbitrary and capricious treatment that is conspicuously ageist. Now that we know how modest the numbers of age discrimination claims are in practice, the time has come to extend legislation so that it covers the main area where there is actually a problem.
Get rid of the default retirement age of 65 – now. And let’s have a decent chance of dealing with the problems properly.
Chris Ball, Chief executive, The Age and Employment Network