The choice about when to retire has always been mainly about being able to afford it

August 19, 2010 8:39 am Published by

Retirement can be a great chapter, given enough health and enough money. Normal health in older age has improved hugely over the past few decades, with life expectancy rising steeply. However, this lengthening of retirement caused by the postponement of death means that inevitably there is not enough money to go round. My life expectancy is over 20 years longer than my mother’s, an extra 20 years for the state pension pot to pay out. One in four boys born today can expect to reach 100 years: should they be expected to work for 40, 50 or 60 years of that time?

The growing unaffordabilty of the present pension system, particularly the public one, has been obvious for years, but pensions are a very long term issue and politicians think short-term about unpleasant decisions. However the unaffordability has reached the point where the Government has to grasp the ageing bull by the horns.

Hence the current review about scrapping the default retirement age in the UK of 65 years. At least we are not alone. The European Commission says that 27 member states need to increase their retirement ages to 70 by 2060; though no other country has current plans beyond age 68.

At present under Labour’s Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, employers can force staff to retire at the age of 65, subject to a process. The likely result of the review seems to be that a default retirement age will be phased out altogether from next April, before becoming unlawful on 1st October 2011. Older workers will then only be dismissed lawfully on the same grounds that would apply for any younger employee.

As workers age, particularly once retirement becomes less affordable, incapability dismissals may multiply, with the employer risking an unfair dismissal and age discrimination claim. What will be the measure of incapability: will it really be reasonable to ask the same performance of a 70 year old as a 20/30/40 year old? If they are paid the same, why not?

And once people have the right to continue working, the Government will feel justified in reducing pensions because people can choose to work. And then the choice will become unaffordable and people will have to work. And it is employers who will have to deal with ageing in the workplace and manage dismissal if the employment no longer works for the business.

Decisions taken now will affect most of us and ours for many decades. We all know that cost considerations will mainly determine the outcome of the review. However if, like many, you are concerned about the retirement age issue it’s worth putting in your pennyworth and responding to the consultation / Consultations/Retirement. There are lots more details there and you have until 21 October 2010 to respond. Things can’t stay as they are, so the key question is: should retirement age be raised or be abolished altogether?

Frances Barker is Employment Partner at Blocks Solicitors, helping employers and HR professionals to manage their staff. Contact her on 01473 343911 or

The above is general comment only and individual advice should be taken.

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This post was written by Frances