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Campaigners lose court battle over women's state pension age

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The High Court has dismissed a challenge against the government’s handling of the rise in women’s state pension age. The State pension age rose to 65 for women between 2010 and 2018, in line with men, and is due to rise to 66 by 2020. The Claimants were women born in the 1950s who have been affected by the legislation equalising the state pension age. They argued that the changes left them with inadequate time to prepare for their retirement and discriminated on the grounds of age and/or sex. They also sought judicial review of the government’s alleged failure to inform them of the changes.

The Court ruled that a State is allowed to introduce a new legislative scheme which effects changes from a given date based on age. It said the underlying objective of the change was to ensure that the state pension regime remained affordable while striking an appropriate balance between state pension age and the size of the state pension.

The judges also found no direct discrimination on grounds of sex, "because this legislation does not treat women less favourably than men in law, rather it equalises a historic asymmetry between men and women and thereby corrects historic direct discrimination against men".

The Claimants agreed that the legislation had been intended to equalise the position of women and men but said it had not had that effect "because it had exacerbated pre-existing inequalities suffered by women when compared with men". However the court said "the historic disadvantages existed anyway" and the criteria for indirect discrimination had not been met.  

In conclusion, the judges said: "The Court was saddened by the stories contained in the Claimants’ evidence. But the Court’s role was limited. There was no basis for concluding that the policy choices reflected in the legislation were not open to government. In any event they were approved by Parliament. The wider issues raised by the Claimants about whether the choices were right or wrong or good or bad were not for the Court. They were for members of the public and their elected representatives."

Head of distribution strategy at Legal & General Investment Management, commented: “The High Court ruling must be very disappointing for the women who have campaigned tirelessly to reverse the state pension age increase. Changing the age boundaries has left millions of women vulnerable with little time to adequately prepare for their retirement, this emphasises the importance of saving from a young age. LGIM research shows that women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to investing during their working lifetime and in retirement, with 62% of women in the UK saying they have never invested their savings and only 50% have invested in a personal pension. This is further capitulated because of an increase in women going into self-employment and not being auto-enrolled into their employer’s pension. "However, these issues are not limited to women - many people in the UK are ill-equipped for when they reach retirement age. We hope this landmark ruling will help women realise the importance of investing in their future and in so doing improve their financial security.”

Head of policy at Hargreaves Lansdown, added: “The Government will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief at this judgement, as any financial remedy would have cost them many billions of pounds to deliver. Given most of the women involved are now already past their revised state pension age, it is hard to see where the campaign will go from here. “It is axiomatic that retirement ages have to rise. It is simply not possible to offset the combination of longer life expectancy, stagnant wages and low interest rates, without working longer and retiring for less time. The critical learning point from this court judgement is people need to prepare for retirement well in advance. It was this disconnect between these women’s expectations and their impending reality check of a later state pension, which has resulted in the lawyers getting involved.”

Posted by MMB Finance Swindon on 4 October 2019