Women born in the 1950s whose retirement age was increased from 60 to 65 have gone to court seeking a judicial review of how the government raised the retirement age and to try to force the government to repay their lost pensions.
Nearly 4 million women have been forced to wait up to an extra six years to get their pensions after changes to bring women’s retirement age into line with men’s.
Two claimants have now taken the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to court, arguing that raising their pension age “unlawfully discriminated against them on the grounds of age, sex, and age and sex combined”.
On the first day of the landmark legal case on Wednesday, Michael Mansfield QC said: “Although the object of the exercise was intended to be equalisation of treatment, in fact what has happened is the reverse.”
Addressing a court packed with supporters from the campaign group BackTo60, Mansfield said that “roughly 3.8 million” women had been affected by the changes.
The barrister said raising the state pension age discriminated against women born after 1950 on the grounds of their age, and also put women “at a particular disadvantage to men”.
He submitted that “the claimants and many other women born in the 1950s” were not told about the changes “until shortly before their expected state pension age at 60”, which caused “significant detriments” to many of them.
Mansfield said many of the women expected to reach state pension age at 60 because that was “the practice and legislation in place for most of their working lives”.
He added that women born in the 1950s had already suffered “considerable inequalities in the workplace”, which he said were the result of “historical factors and social expectations”.
Sir James Eadie QC, representing the DWP, argued that the changes were 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 of raising the pension age to 66 was also to “make pensions affordable … and to control government expenditure at a time of great pressure on public finances”.
Sir James submitted that the government took “extensive” steps to notify women of the change to their state pension age, and added that “personal notification would have been very difficult if not impossible prior to 2003”.
He concluded that the changes “pursue obviously legitimate aims”, and that they “strike a balance between the public interest and the claimants’ interests”.
Before the hearing BackTo60 said that many of the women did not find out about the changes until they went to get their pension or were finally sent an official letter 16 years after the changes were made, leaving them with no time to make alternative financial arrangements.
“We’re in an exquisite position today,” said Joanne Welch from BackTo60, which is seeking repayments of all the pensions that people born in the 1950s would have received if they had been able to retire earlier. “We have done everything we could possibly have done to place ourselves in a powerful legal position.
“We have so much to say and we expect our claim to be granted. And why wouldn’t we? Laws have been broken and when that happens, the judiciary acts accordingly,” she said. “What some people don’t realise is that the women involved were on their knees when we started this campaign and now they’re warriors.”
Women in their 50s and 60s have been hit by the government’s decision under the 1995 Pensions Act to increase the female state pension age from 60 to 65. The change was to be phased in between 2010 and 2020.
The coalition government of 2010 then decided to accelerate the timetable. The 2011 Pension Act bought the new qualifying age of 65 for women forward to 2018. The qualifying age for both men and women will be raised to 66 by October 2020.
BackTo60 argues that women were not given time to adjust to the new retirement age and also that the changes in 2011 and 1995 had not been clearly communicated.