The good news is that you are protected by the law against ageism, which is also referred to as age discrimination.
The Equality Act covers providers of goods and services, as well as public bodies. This includes, for example, shops, hotels, and insurers. It means that you can’t be treated unfairly because of your age. The act also covers age discrimination in employment and access to health services.
There are a number of specific exemptions to the Equality Act which allow discrimination on the basis of age in relation to 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 which cater 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, including banks, building societies and insurance companies. This means that the financial sector can use age limits when deciding what services to offer. However, if they are using age to assess risk - for example refusing insurance to an older person, or charging more for it - they must make sure that they base their decision on reliable and relevant information, which shows that people over a certain age are at greater risk.
The other exemption is when age discrimination can be ‘objectively justified’, that is, a good reason can be given for it. For example, if a health screening programme is targeted at a particular age group this could be objectively justifiable if there is good evidence that this group was more at risk of the disease being screened for.
What you can do
If you feel that you have been treated badly as a customer on the basis of your age‚ here are some actions that you can take:
1) Make a complaint
Use the company’s official complaints procedure, stating that you believe you have been discriminated against on the grounds of age. Always try to speak‚ or write‚ to the most senior person who deals with complaints. You could also complain through the online tool Resolver, which helps people to make and manage their complaints. If you don’t have a successful outcome, you could take it further (see below).
2) Take your complaint further
Depending on who you are complaining about, you could take your complaint further to a regulatory body.
Complain to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about non-broadcast advertisements‚ sales promotions and direct marketing. You may want to complain if you’ve seen a press advertisement‚ promotion‚ leaflet or poster that you think is ageist and you want it changed or withdrawn. The ASA can stop misleading or offensive advertising and ensure sales promotions are run fairly.
Complain about television or radio advertising through the regulator - OFCOM (Office of Communications).
To report a local business to your trading standards, you can do so through the Citizens Advice Consumer Service.
Complaints about financial organisations, insurers and banks could 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.
If you have gone through the complaints procedures and haven’t had a satisfactory response, you could contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service, as they should be able to advise you on what to do next.
3) Spread the word
Take your business elsewhere‚ and tell your friends to do the same. Then, write to the company telling them that ageism is the reason they’ve lost your business. Online reviews can be a powerful way of making your views known, and can sometimes get a more favourable response from the company if they fear losing more business.
You could even contact a consumer champion and tell them about your experiences. Many local and national newspapers have consumer pages as well as readers’ editors. You can also contact a consumer TV programme eg. BBC’s Watchdog.