The UK Government has now issued its response to its consultation “Phasing out the Default Retirement Age”, confirming that the default retirement age (DRA) of 65 will be abolished from 1 October 2011. The last retirement notice under the current procedure should be issued by no later than 30 March 2011, so employers have very little time to prepare. We understand draft Regulations will be laid before Parliament by the end of this month and will come into effect on 6 April 2011.
The Government has stuck to its original proposal that, from 6 April 2011, employers will no longer be able to issue notices of retirement under the DRA procedure. In practice, notices must be issued by 30 March 2011 as the current procedure requires employers to give no less than 6 and no more than 12 months notice of retirement. Notices can be issued after 30 March 2011 and before 6 April under the short notice provisions but the employee could claim compensation of up to 8 weeks’ wages as a result. Where notifications have already been made prior to 6 April 2011, employers will be able to continue with retirement procedure, as long as the retirement is due to take place before 1 October 2011. Retirement notices already issued which provide for a retirement date on or after 1 October 2011 will be void.
No retirements using the DRA procedure will be possible from 1 October 2011. After that date it will only be possible to retire a particular employee at a particular age if the employer can objectively justify that age for retirement. This will be very difficult to do other than in particular professions (such as those requiring significant physical fitness) and will require substantial supporting evidence.
Most importantly for employers, the Government has responded to employer concerns (as communicated by us in our response to the consultation) as regards group risk insured benefits (such as medical insurance, death in service and income protection). The Government’s proposal is to provide an exemption so that employers will be able to exclude employees aged over 65 (such age rising in line with increases in the State Pension Age) from benefits under these schemes, without risk of age discrimination claims being brought. This has been a particular concern for our clients, and so it will come as a relief to many employers who will be able to continue to operate existing schemes without incurring inflated costs. We await the draft Regulations to determine which schemes will be captured by the exemption.
ACAS has now issued guidance for employers “Working without the default retirement age.” While this has been designed to assist employers rather than set statutory guidelines, we recommend that all employers read this carefully. In addition to the new ACAS guidance, the Government recommends that employers look at the guidance already available through the Age Positive Initiative. This gives information on how to review retirement practices, manage performance and flexible approaches to retirement without the use of a fixed retirement age.
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