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European Court backs default retirement at age 65

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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled, this morning, employers can force staff to retire at age 65 in what Age Concern has described as a "bitter blow" to older workers.

The ECJ said Britain’s national default retirement age falls within the scope of EU law but Age Concern maintains the case is far from over as it now falls to the High Court in London to decide the final verdict on mandatory retirement age.

Charities such as Age Concern and Help the Aged have urged the UK Government to cut short the legal process by changing the law immediately to remove a default retirement age which they feel unfairly discriminates on the basis of age.

Last year the Government scrapped mandatory retirement for civil servants.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said: We are disappointed with the judgment, which sends the message that ageism is less important than other forms of discrimination, but we will continue our fight to ensure older British workers are judged on their skills and abilities rather than age. The Government continues to consign tens of thousands of willing and able older workers to the scrapheap. It is time for ministers to find the courage of their convictions and abolish the default retirement age without further delay.

But Alex Lock, employment law expert at Beachcroft, believes the ruling will benefit UK employers. He said: The ECJ’s decision helps employers with difficult decisions they need to make in the face of the current recession. Employers are under pressure to make cost savings this year and will not want any new risks in deciding whether they should retire people at 65. 

If the ECJ had agreed with [Age Concern] that the UK’s retirement laws are in breach of European law, it would have meant, in addition, employers may have had to reassess their benefits packages in order to avoid discrimination without substantially increasing costs. The cost of providing employment benefits to individuals over 65 can be very high.