EU Judges order Government to justify retirement age of 65

The UK's compulsory retirement age of 65 is not in breach of EU law, according to a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) handed down today but the British Government must justify it as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim linked to social or employment policy.

Age Concern brought the case as they wanted to know if it was a breach of EU law for UK employers to force workers into compulsory retirement at age 65. Today the ECJ have ruled that the compulsory retirement practice is legal if the government have a legitimate aim related to employment and social policy. The High Court in London, will now have to decide whether the aims of the government's retirement age of 65 were "legitimate".

The judgment amounts to a defeat for Age Concern’s legal challenge to prevent compulsory retirement at 65, but the final decision will remain with the UK High Court. Campaigners will be disappointed with the result, but are urging the government to change its policy regardless of the ECJ decision. The Government have already said the existing law will be re-examined, and could be relaxed further, in 2011.

Hundreds of pensioners with outstanding cases in the tribunals will have to wait to see if the High Court's final ruling decides the compulsory retirement age is not justified. Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern is reported as saying "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,".

Susan Owens, Employment Solicitor at hc solicitors said “The government will now try to prove that they had a legitimate aim with regards to employment policy and that that the default retirement age is an appropriate and necessary means of achieving a legitimate aim. The main focus will now turn to employment and training issues as being central to justification”.

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This article has been prepared for general interest and information purposes only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. While all possible care has been taken in the preparation of this article, no responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by the firm or the authors.