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Age UK v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills – known as the “Heyday” case (High Court decision)

25 September 2009

Subjects : Justification; Retirement; Indirect Discrimination
The High Court has today given judgment on R (on the application of Age UK) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills [2009] EWHC 2336 (Admin) – known as the “Heyday” case. This case centred on compulsory retirement provisions which mean a worker can be forced to retire once they reach the designated retirement age of 65. The High Court ruled that these provisions can be objectively justified.

The case was originally brought three years ago but was stayed as issues were referred to the ECJ. In that time the parties have all changed their names – Age UK was formerly Age Concern, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills was formerly the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and prior to that the Department of Trade and Industry.

After having received clarification from the ECJ, the case returned to the High Court for a decision on whether the compulsory retirement provisions are objectively justified.

Age UK (and the Equality and Human Rights Commission as intervenors in the case) were arguing that no designated retirement age could be justified, but even if it could, 70 was a more reasonable and proportionate figure.

The Court was able to find without too much difficulty that the designated retirement provisions could be justified. The court stated that “a designated retirement age is not a generalised statement of social worthlessness, but is a measure designed to give certainty and corresponding focus for planning purposes for employers and employees alike. It is a statement that a person is liable to be retired because they have reached the kind of age where it is generally considered appropriate for retirement issues to be addressed.”

The Court then looked at the issue of whether 65 was an appropriate age, and discussed the government’s planned increase in the state pension age to 68, as well as the government’s desire to break the connection between the retirement age and pension age. However, this was a historic challenge and based upon the information available in 2006, a designated retirement age of 65 could be justified, but the Court warned that were a designated retirement age of 65 being implemented today, it would find against it for being disproportionate.

The court was also influenced by the fact that the government has announced that the review of the designated retirement age is to be brought forward to 2010. Although Age UK’s claim ultimately failed, the court indicated that were it not for the imminent review, the position may have been different.

Because of the forthcoming review, none of the parties intend to appeal the decision. The decision has been seen as a ‘temporary’ reprieve for employers keen to retain the designated retirement age of 65. A general election is likely to take place before a review can be carried out, but this decision means that any new government will find it difficult to delay any substantive review or merely reject out of hand an increase in the designated retirement age.

Click here for a copy of the High Court's judgement in this case

Click here for a summary of the European Court of Justice decision