With age discrimination laws in force in full on 1 October, 2012, many brands and marketers may not yet appreciate the potentially enormous impact this may have on advertising and sales. For instance will it be illegal to refuse car hire to under-21s or will this be exempted? Ciaran Price reports on this and other proposed exemptions.
Who: Government Equalities Office
When: June 2012
Law stated as at: 5 July 2012
In April 2012 the Government confirmed that the ban on age discrimination in the provision of products and services under the Equality Act 2010 would come into force on 1 October 2012.
The ban will fundamentally change the landscape for providers of products or services targeted at specific age groups, or those using any restrictions based on age. The Government Equalities Office (GEO) has now issued its response to its consultation on proposed exceptions to the discrimination ban, with the revised form of those exceptions.
In some instances, the GEO has confirmed that a specific exception will be in place, allowing providers' operations (and hence their marketing and advertising) to continue largely as before.
For example, it will still be possible to offer age-related discounts and concessions in relation to various products and services, such as cheaper fish and chips for pensioners or discounted theatre admission for people under twenty six. It will also still be possible for 'associations' such as sports clubs to offer differing rates to members on the basis of their age.
A similar exception will apply to age-related holiday products such as Saga and Club 18-30 as the GEO considers that no harm is being done by this type of discrimination.
No exceptions for self-catering accommodation
In various sectors however the GEO has decided after consultation that no exception should apply and that providers will have to rely on the "objective justification/good reason" defence if challenged.
For example, it will no longer automatically be possible to refuse to let self-catering accommodation on the basis of customers' age; previously, many providers imposed a minimum age restriction to prevent younger people from letting such accommodation.
From a marketing point of view, this potentially broadens the range of media that can be used to advertise holidays and locations to a new, younger demographic. Providers of such accommodation will still be able to refuse to let to people under a certain age should they wish to, but they will have to provide evidence to justify the policy if customers challenge it.
No car-hire exception either
The GEO has also concluded that an exception from the ban would not be appropriate in the case of vehicle rentals. Currently, 90% of British car rental companies will not hire their vehicles to drivers under 21 or over 70 years of age; most also impose higher age limits for more powerful cars. There are also heavy surcharges payable by drivers under 25.
Although this has long been a source of complaints from customers, the companies concerned maintain that these policies allow them to manage risk, as younger and older drivers tend to have more accidents.
However, the GEO considers that a blanket policy which negatively affects some customers purely on the basis of their age regardless of experience or driving record is a harmful form of discrimination. Accordingly, from now on vehicle rental companies will only be able to charge customers more or refuse to rent to them on the basis of age if they can show evidence of good reasons justifying the policy.
Why this matters:
Without having the benefit of seeing the effect of the ban and the exceptions in practice until October 2012, it is difficult to predict what their impact will be. Clearly, it will fundamentally change the way that some products and services are advertised, with organisations having to ensure that they avoid marketing only to specific age groups.
This would also catch situations where products were marketed to all, but restrictions based on customers' age were applied subsequently. The new requirement to provide objective justification for age discrimination in relevant sectors will pose advertisers with a new problem; the inability to market to specific age groups without a demonstrable justification.
The ongoing impact of these restrictions will of course be closely watched by Marketinglaw going forward.