Equality law could pave way to scrapping of retirement age

A number of universities could do away with a set retirement age as a result of new legislation on age discrimination, a conference heard last week.

Bolton University is considering allowing staff to choose their retirement age, rather than setting a default retirement age of 65.

Under the regulations, the Government has set 65 as the age at which employers can retire staff without having to justify the decision. Staff wishing to work beyond that age have to request to do so.

"Our aim is not to make staff work until they drop," Sharon Germaine-Cox, assistant director of human resources for Bolton, told the Equality Challenge Unit's annual conference last week.

"Instead, we want to put control in the hands of the employee. However, this is just one option we are considering and we are yet to consult on it."

She said that Bolton was examining the final regulations carefully to see what was possible.

"Our aim is to ensure that we do not haemorrhage talent," she said.

Liz Sutherland, policy adviser at the ECU, said: "Bolton's move is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the legislation.

"A number of universities have told us they are considering removing their retirement ages, but not just yet - they know that first they will have to consult with staff, ensure that their systems for staff development and staff review are robust and extend their flexible working schemes."

Chris Hall, project officer at the Universities and Colleges Employers'

Association, said: "The age discrimination legislation has far-reaching implications and will bring about a major culture change in universities.

Unlike other legislation designed to outlaw different forms of discrimination, it affects everyone."

The legislation covers employment and vocational training and is part of the European Employment Directive on Equal Treatment. It sits alongside a number of age and pension-related initiatives.

There is no state retirement age in the UK; instead, there is a state pension age.

Some universities have a contractual retirement age. Others have what is called a normal retirement age - the age at which an occupational pension scheme can pay full unreduced pensions benefits.

For the Universities Superannuation Scheme, the age is 65; for the Teachers' Pension Scheme it is 60.

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