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Age discrimination

Age discrimination, also referred to as ageism, can have a huge impact on older people’s lives. It may not always be obvious that you are being discriminated against because of your age, but it could result in you receiving lower quality treatment or services. There are many areas of life in which people can experience age-related discrimination, including employment, health care and consumer services.

Types of age discrimination

Age discrimination can take many forms but is broadly defined as when someone is ‘treated less favourably on the basis of age’. There are four defined types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination – treating someone less favourably because of their age.
  • Indirect discrimination – having a policy or practice which puts people of a certain age at a disadvantage compared with other people. For example, having a policy that restricts recruitment of new employees to ‘recent graduates’.
  • Harassment – when a person feels intimidated, humiliated or offended by another person’s conduct regarding their age. An example of this would be when someone makes jokes about a person’s age, which they find offensive.
  • Victimisation – being treated unfairly as a result of making a complaint of age discrimination, or for giving evidence when somebody else complains of age discrimination.

The Equality Act

The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The Equality Act brings together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one single Act, one of which was the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations of 2006.

The Equality Act is a law which protects you from discrimination. It aims to prevent people from being treated differently or unfairly on the basis of specific characteristics. The Equality Act makes discrimination on the basis of age, sometimes called ageism, unlawful.

The act also protects you from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender reassignment, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity.

Age discrimination in the workplace

From 1 October 2011, employers are no longer allowed to issue forced retirement notices to their employees. This is the end for the Default Retirement Age (DRA). For further information, visit the Age UK website.

Under the Equality Act, you are protected from age discrimination in all aspects of your employment including:

  • recruitment
  • employment terms and conditions
  • promotions and transfers
  • training
  • dismissals

The Equality Act has an exemption for age discrimination when it can be ‘objectively justified’ and the employer can prove they have a good reason for discriminating on the basis of age. For example, an employer may have an upper age limit on a job where very high levels of physical fitness are required, and could not be fulfilled by someone older.

If you feel like you have experienced discrimination in the workplace, you should first follow your employer’s grievance procedure. If this isn’t successful, you may want to submit a claim to the employment tribunal, however this must be done within three months of the incident.

Age discrimination in health and social care

Age can play a part when professionals make decisions about the care and treatment that you might receive, and in some cases this will be appropriate.

The Equality Act means that all people, regardless of their age, should receive a personal, fair and diverse service, based on their individual needs, not their age.

Examples of discrimination within a healthcare setting might include:

  • Making assumptions about whether an older patient should be referred for treatment based solely on their age, rather than on the individual need and fitness level
  • Not referring retired people for a particular treatment that is considered mainly, but not exclusively, for working age adults
  • Not considering the wellbeing or dignity of older people

The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) provide support and information to patients, their families and carers if they have any concerns about the care they receive from any health care service.

For further information please read our articles on:

Age discrimination in consumer products and services

Age discrimination can also occur in a consumer environment. Maybe you’ve received a leaflet that is offensive, been treated badly in a shop, or perhaps you’ve had motor or travel insurance refused because of your age.

The Equality Act covers providers of goods and services, including shops, hotels, and insurers. This means you should not be treated unfairly because of your age. However there are specific exceptions to this that allow age discrimination with certain consumer and financial services.

Some examples include:

  • age-related holidays offered for the over 50s or 18-30 year olds only
  • discounts in shops for people aged over 65
  • social or leisure clubs for people of specific ages only.

These examples are all lawful because age-related concessions and age-specific services can be exempt under the Equality Act.

There is also an exemption for financial services. This means that insurers can take age into account for calculating a premium, or a bank could refuse a financial product to a customer because of their age. However, their decision must be based on reliable and relevant information, rather than just making a general assumption based on age.

How to complain about a consumer product or service

If you feel you have been discriminated against and would like to complain about an advertisement, contact the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regarding adverts in the press, direct mail, posters, and leaflets.

To complain about television or radio adverts, contact Ofcom.

To report a local business to Trading Standards, you should contact Citizens Advice Newcastle.

Complaints about financial organisations, insurers and banks can be taken to the Financial Ombudsman, which can investigate complaints that haven’t been resolved. You can only go to the Ombudsman when you have first tried to resolve the matter through the organisation’s complaints process first.

Read our article on Your Consumer Rights for more information.

Other Useful Information

Read our article on Advocacy for information on help with getting your voice heard.

Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) helpline offers 24 hour free advice and guidance on rights at work and employment law

Equally Ours contains information about voluntary, statutory or umbrella organisations working on equality and human rights issues

Civil Legal Advice offers specialist advice to those on a lower income or benefits.

The information on this website is for general guidance on your rights and responsibilities and is not legal advice. If you need more details on your rights, or legal advice about what action to take, please contact an adviser or solicitor.

Last updated: July 16, 2020

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