The manner in which the government increased women’s state pension age was not discriminatory, a judicial review has found, rather the measure “equalises a historic asymmetry” between men and women.
Campaigners claimed that the rise in the age at which women start to receive their state pension discriminated against women because they were given insufficient time to make alternative retirement arrangements.
Under the Pensions Act 1995, the government decided that the pension ages of both men and women would be equalised at 65 by 2020. The Pensions Act 2011 accelerated the plan with the state pension age (SPA) for women reaching 63 by 2017 and 65 by 2018. By 2020, the SPA will be 66 for men and women, and 67 by 2028.
In June campaign group Backto60 took the Department for Work and Pensions to the High Court, claiming that the government should repay pensions to people born in the 1950s, who would now be coming up to SPA but in many cases will have to wait, or be unable to retire.
Around 3.8 million women were affected, with some missing out on more than £40,000.
However the High Court judges dismissed their claim on all counts. In a summary of the decision they said: “There was no direct discrimination on grounds of sex, because this legislation does not treat women less favourably than men in law, rather it equalises a historic asymmetry between men and women and thereby corrects historic direct discrimination against men”.
The court also rejected the claim that the pension change was age discrimination, because the measure was not “manifestly without reasonable foundation”.
Furthermore the judges rejected the claimants’ arguments that they had received insufficient notice. The claimants had no legitimate expectation that the government would not alter the SPA without prior consultation and, in any event, “it was clear that successive governments had engaged in extensive consultation with a wide spread of interested bodies before the legislation was introduced,” said the summary.
We are saddened by the stories we read in the evidence lodged by the claimants. But our role as judges in this case is limited” – High Court judgment
In conclusion Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice Whipple said: “We are saddened by the stories we read in the evidence lodged by the claimants. But our role as judges in this case is limited. There is no basis for concluding that the policy choices reflected in this legislation were not open to government.
“We are satisfied that they were. In any event they were approved by Parliament. The wider issues raised by the claimants, about whether these choices were right or wrong or good or bad, are not for us; they are for members of the public and their elected representatives.”
BackTo60’s Joanne Welch said: “Many women did not find out about the changes to the pension rules until they went to get their pension or were finally sent an official letter 16 years after the changes were made, leaving them with no time to make alternative financial arrangements.”
“These are not women in their twenties who were ready for a fight: this battle turned women in their seventies into warriors.”
Backto60 said it was meeting with its legal team to consider the detailed reasons in the judgment to assess “how to progress these pressing issues further within the legal process”.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is a terrible blow for the millions of women who will have been hoping for a very different outcome today… It seems perverse that the Department for Work and Pensions had no obligation to inform these women of this significant change.
“But despite today’s decision women born in the 1950s will not give up their campaign to get back what they are rightly owed.”