After a long court battle, the High Court has decided that almost four million women born in the 1950s will not be compensated for the money they lost when their pension age was raised from 60 to 66.
The result means that millions of women have lost potentially life-changing sums of pension income. Keep reading to find out more about the background to the case and the recent verdict.
The background to the legal challenge
In the 1995 Pensions Act, the government raised the female State Pension age from 60 to 65. The change was set to be phased in between 2010 and 2020.
However, the coalition government of 2010 accelerated the timetable. The 2011 Pensions Act brought the new qualifying age of 65 for women forward to 2018, and the State Pension age for both men and women will be raised to 66 by October 2020.
The BackTo60 campaign argued that women were not given time to adjust for the years without a State Pension. They also argued that the changes in 2011 and 1995 had not been clearly communicated.
It’s important to note that the campaigners do not oppose an equal pension age. The complaint regards the speed with which the women’s pension age has been raised – to 65 in 2018 and to 66 in 2020.
They say that this gives many women no chance to build up a pension. Many women were only warned by letter 16 years after the initial legislation was passed.
The Back to 60 campaign group was seeking repayment of all the pensions people born in the 1950s would have received if they had been able to retire earlier. The group say that women are losing four to six years’ worth of State Pension, equivalent to around £47,000 each.
They argued that the changes constituted ‘unjustified direct discrimination’ on grounds of age and sex.
The High Court judgment found that there had been no discrimination by the Department for Work and Pensions based on age ‘but even if there was, it could be justified on the facts’.
The judgment says: “This legislation operated in the field of macro-economic policy; 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; an important consideration was the need to secure intergenerational fairness between pensioners and younger taxpayers; the fact that people live longer is important alongside other demographic and social changes.”
The judges also ruled that there was 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 also argued that they had not had sufficient notice of the changes and that this was contrary to the requirements of public law.
This was rejected by the judges because “the claimants had no legitimate expectation that the government would not alter the State Pension age without prior consultation; in any event, it was clear that successive governments had engaged in extensive consultation with a wide spread of interested bodies before the legislation was introduced”.
In a summary of the court’s decision, Lord Justice Irwin and Mrs Justice Whipple 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.”
Groups set to appeal
Despite the High Court verdict, the BackTo60 campaign intends to appeal the decision.
Joanne Welch from the group said: “They can’t knock us back. We’ve got a fierce and powerful armoury behind us. As well as the 3.8 million women affected, we have the support of 215 MPs, Unite, Unison, TUC and others.”
Marcia Willis Stewart of Birnberg Peirce, which represented the claimants, added: “We are deeply disappointed by this decision.” She added that the aim of the “arduous legal process” was “to rectify a substantial and far-reaching injustice”.
“Sadly, today that injustice remains,” she said. “The struggling on behalf of those beleaguered women, whose stories saddened the judges but for whom this judgment provided no relief, will continue.”
Get in touch
If you want to know what State Pension you are on track for, head online and obtain a forecast.
Chatting to a financial planner can also help you to identify other options for filling in the ‘gap’ in your pension provision between ages 60 and 67. These may include using tax breaks or other investments. Please get in touch by email at email@example.com or call us on 01189 876655.