Retirement law a grey area for staff

A survey finds that many wish to work past 65 but are unclear on their institutions' policies, writes Melanie Newman

February 21, 2008

More than a quarter of university staff want to work beyond age 65, according to the preliminary results of a large-scale survey of higher education institutions.

The survey, involving 5,023 staff across eight universities, found that 26 per cent of respondents said that they were likely or very likely to ask to stay on past the normal retirement age of 65. The true figure could be higher, as the survey also found that staff have poor knowledge of their rights under age discrimination laws.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, which outlaw age discrimination, allow staff to request to work beyond 65. But employees have little redress if a request is refused, as employers are entitled to impose mandatory retirement at 65.

Heyday, an Age Concern network for people in or nearing retirement, has undertaken a test case in the European Court, arguing that mandatory retirement ages breach the European legislation on which age regulations are based. A decision is expected this year.

Simonetta Manfredi, co-director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University, who carried out the research, said that staff were often unclear about relevant laws, their pension rights and their institution's policies on age discrimination.

Forty-one per cent of survey respondents did not know their universities' policy on retirement age and 75 per cent could not say whether their pension scheme allowed for flexible retirement.

"The findings indicate that more could be done in the sector to ensure that staff have a better knowledge and understanding of policies and procedures," Dr Manfredi said.

Earlier research commissioned by the Equality Challenge Unit highlighted that "insufficient attention has so far been paid to age discrimination in the sector".

The Government predicts that employees will file eight times more legal claims against their employers on the grounds of age discrimination than on the grounds of sexual orientation or religion.

By March 2007, almost 1,000 tribunal claims for age discrimination had been lodged. Tribunals have ruled that job adverts asking for a maximum of three years' experience and for a "young and dynamic professional"are discriminatory.

Just 9 per cent of staff surveyed by Dr Manfredi said they had experienced age discrimination.

The issues were highlighted this month when it emerged that renowned literary theorist Terry Eagleton is "in discussions" with his employer, the University of Manchester, over his future after his 65th birthday in July.

He told The Observer: "They are throwing me out on the grounds of age ... along with two other distinguished professors. We're 65, but it is a discretionary decision."

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