Women lose claim against state pension age increases

Out-Law News | 03 Oct 2019 | 5:26 pm | 3 min. read

Campaigners have lost their High Court challenge to the way in which the UK government increased the state pension age (SPA) of women to match that of men.

The High Court ruled that the mechanism used to increase the SPA for affected women born in the 1950s, including claimants Julie Delve and Karen Glynn, did not discriminate against them on grounds of sex, age, or sex combined with age.

In addition, the women had no "legitimate expectation" that the government would communicate any future changes to the SPA, the High Court said in its judgment. Even if there had been, it was "clear that successive governments engaged in extensive consultation with a wide spread of interested bodies" before the changes were made by way of various Pensions Acts, particularly those of 1995 and 2001, the court said.

The SPA for women was steadily increased from age 60 to age 65, to match that of men, by 2018. It will increase to 66 for both sexes in 2020, and to 67 by 2028.

Tyler Simon

Simon Tyler

Legal Director

The main bone of contention for campaigners was whether the government had correctly managed women's expectations by keeping them informed of the proposed changes.

The changes mean that women born on or after 6 April 1950 will reach SPA, making them eligible for the state pension, at a later date than would otherwise have been the case.

Pensions expert Simon Tyler of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that the women's discrimination claim was a particularly difficult one to argue, given that their SPA had previously been lower than that of men.

"The main bone of contention for campaigners was rather whether the government had correctly managed women's expectations by keeping them informed of the proposed changes. But the judge ruled that the law changing state pension age was valid whatever affected women may have understood the position to be," he said.

Pensions expert Stephen Scholefield of Pinsent Masons, said: "Given recent events, it's interesting to see the dynamic between the courts and parliament play out here".

"The court made it clear that parliament could have required a particular form of notice to be given to the affected women when it passed the relevant laws. It did not do so. As such, it is not for the courts to add to what parliament decided or to frustrate its decision by adding an additional requirement. Whether redress should be given is now a political, rather than a legal, question," he said.

High Court judges Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice Whipple said in their judgment that they had been "saddened" by the stories they had heard from women who had been adversely affected by the change. It remained to be seen, however, whether the campaigners would appeal the decision, Tyler said.

Delve and Glynn, who are members of a campaign group called Backto60, argued that the changes "exacerbate pre-existing inequalities suffered by women", particularly those born in the 1950s, who were less likely to have worked outside of the home or who may have had caring responsibilities impacting on their earning capability. They argued that this made the changes directly or, more likely, indirectly discriminatory.

Scholefield Stephen

Stephen Scholefield

Partner

Given recent events, it's interesting to see the dynamic between the courts and parliament play out here.

Additionally, the women argued that the government had not provided adequate notice of the changes, making them "contrary to the requirements of public law, legitimate expectation and/or procedural fairness". Each noted that they only became aware of the changes following conversations with others, in 2014 and 2015 respectively, and that they were in tight financial circumstances due to a combination of chronic ill health, bereavement and caring responsibilities.

The High Court first dismissed the claims founded on direct discrimination. The legislation affected women only "because it was women only who previously enjoyed the advantage which is now being removed". It was designed to "equalise a historic asymmetry between men and women" and to "correct historic direct discrimination against men" rather than to treat women less favourably than men. Neither was the change indirectly discriminatory, because the differences in working patterns of men and women are "rooted in traditions and cultural norms" rather than caused by a change to the SPA.

The claim based on legitimate expectation was also dismissed, notably because parliament had not included any requirements to give notice in the various Pensions Acts.

The judges noted that their role in the case was "limited", and that there was "no basis for concluding that the policy changes reflected in this legislation were not open to government". In any event, the changes had been "approved by parliament", they said.