The headlines have been pretty stark this week after a High Court ruling on women’s retirement age:
“Women not entitled to pension age change compensation”
“State pension age changes: Women lose landmark judicial review”
“How Waspi Women faced pensions sting”
My firm view is that the court got it right.
Two women brought the case against the DWP, claiming that the 1995 and 2011 increases in women’s state pensionable age “unlawfully discriminated against them on the grounds of age, sex, and age and sex combined”.
Justices Irwin and Whipple, who heard the case, dismissed the claim on all grounds and said in their judgment on Thursday that:
“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.”
In other words, it was a political decision and not one for the courts.
Additionally, where the claimants tried to establish discrimination on the basis of sex, their justices ruled that EU member states were allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex in determining pensionable age: “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.”
In other words, a resetting of an equilibrium.
My penny’s worth
In the maelstrom of courtroom drama and a case backed by unions and sections of the media, it’s easy to lose sight of a few basic facts here:
- The women involved were told at the time of the changes but many believed it was in the hands of their husbands to sort out their household’s financial arrangements so probably didn’t engage with the communications at the time, yet
- Sentiment toward pension communications is changing and we know that today’s younger generations (all genders) do tend to read their pensions statements and take responsibility for their financial wellbeing more seriously; so
- Punishing the latter group for the former’s actions could be seen as unfair.
For me however, the key take away from this case is that there is always a need to make pension communications thorough, clear and regular. That’s the best way to avoid any future claims.