Held back by ageism?

Held back by ageism?

Age discrimination is unfair treatment based on a person’s age and is just as wrong as discrimination on the grounds of sex or race, but often we just accept that we are being overlooked because we are older.

A bias against someone just because of their age is not only wrong it is also illegal, especially when it impacts on their confidence, job prospects, financial situation and quality of life.  It can also influence the way older people are represented in the media and the public’s attitude.

No one should lose out because of their age but often may not realise that they may have been subjected to ageism. They may have encountered it when out shopping, at the doctor’s surgery, or even when ordering products and services over the phone.

Some instances where age may have affected a decision are:

  • Losing a job
  • Being refused interest-free credit, a new credit card, car insurance or travel insurance,
  • Receiving a lower quality of service in a shop or restaurant because of the organisation’s attitude to older people.
  • Not being eligible for benefits such as Disability Living Allowance due to age limits
  • Being refused a referral from a doctor to a consultant for being ‘too old’
  • Being refused membership to a club or trade association

Equality Act

Under the Equality Act we are protected against some of these situations by law, but not all of them. For instance, we are safeguarded from ageism in employment, training and education and also in membership of clubs and associations.

There is increased protection to make sure that older people are not being treated unfairly when you are receiving products and services. However, areas such as housing are not as yet covered by the Act.

There are two types of discrimination which are outlawed by the Equality Act:

  1. Direct discrimination is when treatment is less favourably because of a protected characteristic; for example, if a local gym refuses to grant membership because of your age.
  2. Indirect discrimination is when people are disadvantaged by criteria that have the effect of discriminating on the basis of age (or another ‘protected characteristic’). For example, if an item can be paid for in instalments but only if working, this would completely disadvantage pensioners.


However, discrimination on the grounds of age can be allowed if it can be proved to be ‘objectively justified’. That means the employer or service provider must be able to show why they have a good reason for taking that approach.

For example, an employer could potentially have an upper age limit on a job where very high levels of physical fitness are required that could not be fulfilled by someone older.


The Equality Act protects older people from harassment if they feel they are subjected to behaviour that makes them feel intimidated, humiliated, or degraded, or that creates a hostile environment, because of their age or another protected characteristic. For example, if a nurse repeatedly made jokes about age, which were offensive, that could be defined as harassment.

It also safeguards against victimisation if you are treated unfairly as a result of making a complaint about discrimination, or giving evidence when someone else makes a complaint.

Public bodies

Organisations such as local authorities, hospital trusts and police authorities have a duty on them to prevent discrimination and promote equality of opportunity.

They should take into account the needs of people with protected characteristics, including older people, when they are carrying out their public duties and planning their activities. They should make sure that their services and policies are accessible to all and meet different people’s needs.

For example, if a local bus service is to be cancelled and that bus is particularly used by older people to access community and health services, then their needs should be considered when the decision is made.

Discrimination in work

Age discrimination rights apply to the vast majority of workers, including ‘office holders’, police, barristers and partners in a business. Under the Act, limited exceptions regarding age can be allowed in some areas. These can include pay and other employment benefits based on length of service. There are also some limited exceptions and exemptions relating, for example, to the National Minimum Wage, redundancy payments, insurance and pensions.

The Act says there are no upper age limits on unfair dismissal and redundancy.

Retirement Age

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).

Prior to this date an employer could force their employees to retire at the age of 65. Employees could request to stay on after this age, but employers could refuse these requests if they wished.

The UK’s workforce is ageing and it is counterproductive to restrict the work that people can do by an arbitrary measure such as age. It is a win-win-win situation for individuals, employers and the Government.

Have you ever felt you were treated unfairly because of your age? Have you ever been insulted or overlooked? We would like to hear your experiences.