UK - Members of Parliament (MPs) serving on the Work and Pensions Committee have recommended regulation allowing a statutory default retirement age of 65 be abolished - a move which contradicts the government's recent defence in a legal action brought by ageing population charities.

In its report on the new Equality Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, the committee highlighted evidence which suggested "one of the greatest obstacles to improving employment opportunities for older people is the continued existence of the statutory default retirement age in the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006".

The committee, comprising 11 MPs from across all three political parties, noted the regulations were introduced to transpose EU Directive 2000/78/EC into domestic law and state a British employer can dismiss a member of staff on their 65th birthday without redundancy, although employees are given the right to request permission to work past this age.

Charities such as Help the Aged and Age Concern told MPs the exemption in regulation 30 of the law, allowing enforced retirement at age 65, is "unjustifiable discrimination, contrary to fundamental human rights and principles of equality".

And in response to the suggestion that the Equality Bill could have been used to review the policy, Kitty Usher, minister at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), told the committee: "We have made it clear that there will be a review of the default retirement age in 2011. There is not a consensus across the whole of society, so we are sticking to that timetable".

The committee meanwhile admitted in its report, published last week, that the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Heyday case "does not resolve the question of whether the default retirement age is lawful", as the issue was passed back to the UK High Court. (See earlier IPE article: ECJ passes Heyday case back to UK High Court)

But it pointed out the ruling means the government has to demonstrate that giving employers the ability to justify direct discrimination has a "social policy objective" and even if the High Court decides the regulations can still stand, "it seems inevitable that they will be interpreted in a way that limits the reasons employers can rely on to justify direct discrimination".

As a result, the committee added: "In light of the judgment by the ECJ, we recommend that the government removes regulation 30, which permits employers to continue to compulsorily retire employees at the age of 65. This regulation contradicts the government's wider social policy and labour market objectives to raise the average retirement age and allow people to continue to work and save for their retirement."

Michelle Mitchell, charity director for Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: "This report should be seen by ministers as the final nail in the coffin for the national default retirement age. This outmoded practice flies in the face of public opinion, established government policy and the needs of the economy."

Mitchell argued many older people want to work past the age of 65, often to top up inadequate retirement savings, and warned "now the group of MPs who specialise in workforce matters have rubbished the national default retirement age, the government should act fast to get rid of it once and for all".

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