Transitional pension provisions deemed not to constitute age discrimination

In the case of Sargean v London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority the Employment Tribunal has decided that transitional provisions in firefighters’ pension schemes are not discriminatory on the grounds of age.

In contrast to other forms of direct discrimination, direct age discrimination can be objectively justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

On 1 April 2015, with the introduction of the Firefighters Pension Scheme 2015, changes were made to the firefighters’ pension schemes. One of the significant changes was a transitional provision that permitted anyone within 10 years of the pension age, 50 years or over, to remain on the old (more favourable) scheme without transitioning to the new one.

Age discrimination claims were brought by firefighters on the basis that the transitional provisions allowed older firefighters to remain part of the old scheme and younger firefighters being transferred onto the new scheme because they did not receive the same benefits as the older firefighters.

The Employment Tribunal found that, although the transitional provisions did amount to less favourable treatment on the basis of age, it could be demonstrated that the treatment was objectively justified and it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

 

The aim was accepted by the Employment Tribunal on the basis that it was necessary to protect those people closest to the normal pension age and was therefore necessary in order for them to draw a line somewhere. It was recognised that inevitably some individuals would be disadvantaged by this treatment however it was deemed to be proportionate in any case.

 

The Fire Brigades Union has already confirmed its appeal to challenge this decision. This is not unexpected, not least because the decision conflicts with the recent position in the case of McCloud v Lord Chancellor (which itself is also to be the subject of appeal), where similar transitional provisions in the judges’ pension scheme were found to be discriminatory on the grounds of age. For further information on that decision, see our article here.