Ask the panel

September 29, 2006

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I work in human resources in a small institution that has a retirement age of 65. We know the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations are coming into force on October 1 and that they will give staff the right to request to carry on working beyond retirement. We are struggling to develop a policy for handling such requests. Can you offer any advice?

* Our panellist from the Equality Challenge Unit says: "The new age regulations, particularly the right to request working beyond retirement age, can benefit both higher education institutions and their staff. But it is important that you develop a policy now. Discuss and agree, together with staff and union representatives, a policy and process for notifying staff of their right to request to continue working beyond any institutional retirement age and another one for handling requests to stay on.

"The ECU suggests you draw up a clear set of criteria, based on business requirements, on which to base a decision about requests to keep working. Such grounds could include:

a) The nature and value of the overall contribution made by the employee to the institution's activities and objectives - their social contribution, their capabilities and competencies, their financial contribution, if appropriate

b) The demographics of the workforce in their department or area

c) The shortage (or oversupply) of certain skills in an area

d) The need to encourage movement within departments or functional areas and to succession-plan and provide opportunities for staff with less experience to acquire more

e) The future strategic plans for that area in terms of volume and type of work and the implications of those for the kind of workforce your institution needs to have in the future."

She adds: "It is important that you ensure the optimum balance between maximising the talents, skills and experience of those who wish to stay on beyond retirement age and enabling the career progression of staff with less experience. To make this work you need to have up-to-date statistics and information at local level so your decisions are informed by data on each department or area."

* Our Universities and Colleges Employers' Association panellist says: "Ucea distributed information and advice relating to The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations to all institutions in April in the form of an update (reference: 06:53). This summarises the statutory requirements with regard to requests to continue working beyond retirement age, including transitional arrangements that apply to retirements between October 1, 2006, and March 31, 2007. Further information on the requirements can be found on the Department of Trade and Industry website (factsheets nos. 3 and 7) and in guidance from conciliation service Acas, Age and the Workplace ( ), where you will find a useful flowchart.

"You may wish to develop separate management guidance. You will need to consider how to deal with requests to change working arrangements, such as hours of work, because you may find that such requests often accompany those to continue working.

"You can contact Ucea directly for additional advice on drafting your policy, but I urge you to develop it as soon as possible."

* Our panellist from the University and College Union says: "All employers will have a 'duty to consider' requests from employees to work beyond 65. If you decide to refuse a request, an employee has the right to an appeal meeting. As the employer you are not obliged to give a reason for refusing a request. But giving a reason and a detailed explanation of your retirement policy would be in line with good practice as recommended by Acas. As an employer, you are required to notify an employee in writing of their right to request to go on working beyond retirement date (at least six months in advance, but no more than 12 months before the intended date). It is good practice to set out how you will manage the retirement process."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to

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