Scots charity launches legal challenge to change in women's state pension age

A legal challenge to the UK government's changes to the state pension age for women is to be launched by a new Dundee-based charity.
Amber Rudd has defended the changes to the state pension age for women.Amber Rudd has defended the changes to the state pension age for women.
Amber Rudd has defended the changes to the state pension age for women.

Feisty Women, which campaigns to end age and sex discrimination experienced by women born in the 1950s, wants to test the effectiveness of UK equalities legislation by focusing on the lawfulness of the Pensions Act 2011.

Legislation passed in 1995 increased women's state pension age from 60 to 65, to be equal to that of men, but research has shown many women were unaware that they would be affected and therefore have to retire at a later age than they had planned. The 2011 legislation sped up the timetable for the change, so that state pension ages would be equal by 2018 - rising to age 66 for everyone by 2020.

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Together the changes delay women’s state pension age between three and six years compared to retiring at 60 and 2.6 million women are believed to be affected.

New analysis released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) last Friday, estimated the total cost of reversing the state pension age changes for women back to 60 between now and 2025/26 would be £181.4 billion.

However Feisty Women is not campaigning for the restoration of the pension age or for transition arrangements, but for "financial redress on grounds of indirect discrimination and a potential breach of contract".

Chair and co-founder, Ann Porter said: "Amber Rudd is one of a series of pensions ministers who continue to assert that the government acted lawfully in the way they accelerated pension changes for women in the 2011 Pension Reform Act.

"She recently said that company bosses who display ‘reckless and wilful behaviour’ and mismanage their employees’ pensions could face up to seven years in prison. Yet it appears that the DWP, based on evidence we have gathered, cannot be held to account for what in our view is a mismanagement of Public Service Equality Duty.”

Ms Porter said that it was time government acknowledged that motherhood "is an important cause of low pay for women - in the first 12 years after a child is born, the pay gap between women and men widens to 33 per cent according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. A wealth of data exists to prove the economic participation of women and men as they approachretirement is not the same.

"Women in their sixties are poorer and in worse health than men the same age. Their paid work and unpaid work in the home - critical to the success of the economy - have not been valued proportionately."

Her colleague Anne Rendall, co-founder of the charity said: “Changes to state pension age for women have created a unique legal situation. We know women over the age of 60 have experienced sex discrimination and economic injustice all their lives, yet there appears to be no straightforward route to justice.

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"Pension injustice appears to fall between different areas of law. For this reason, our legal representatives describe this as a ‘case of interest’ because there will be lessons to be learned. If in the end, women over the age of 60 have no real access to justice, then we will challenge the effectiveness of equalities legislation which may not be fit for purpose.

"If a legal route is possible, Feisty Women will raise further funds and launch legal action. But we do not want to give women false hope that this will result in overturning the DWP’s actions. This could be a long process. Our over-riding aim is to make sure that age and sex discrimination such as happened here, cannot and must not, be accepted.”

Last week the campaign group Backto60 has its judicial review of the state pension age changes for women heard at the High Court in London. Michael Mansfield QC told the hearing: “Although the object of the exercise was intended to be equalisation of treatment, in fact what has happened is the reverse.”

But Sir James Eadie QC, representing the DWP argued that the changes had been intended to “equalise the state pension age between the sexes" and "to ensure intergenerational fairness as between those in receipt of state pensions and the younger taxpayers funding them.”

He added that the aim to increase the state pension age for both men and women to 66 was to “make pensions affordable ... and to control government expenditure at a time of great pressure on public finances”.