| 6.6°C Dublin

Pensions Q&A: What is happening for public and private sector employees? What happens if you have to retire at 65?


Pledge: Social protection minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Frank McGrath

Pledge: Social protection minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Frank McGrath

Stock: Getty Images

Stock: Getty Images


Pledge: Social protection minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Frank McGrath

Why are public sector workers having an easier time of it than the private sector because of the rising State pension age?

Their employer - the Government - has largely insulated them from the effects of its policy of pushing up the age you can draw the State pension.

Apart from tiding over those who joined since the mid-1990s with supplementary payments when they retire, one of the most significant decisions it took in recent years was raising the compulsory retirement age from 65 to 70 for the vast bulk of staff.

This means they can continue to work beyond State pension age if they want.

Workers who joined the public service since 2013 already had a maximum retirement age of 70 and this was extended to all workers.

This does not stop public servants from opting to retire at their minimum retirement age, which varies depending on their role and when they joined.

These rules do not apply to some groups including gardaí, prison officers, and politicians, who are on fast-track pension schemes. But they face little threat of an income gap as they can retire in their 50s on full pensions.

Of course, the biggest protection is the fact that - unlike private sector workers - practically all State workers have defined benefit pensions, which are guaranteed.

Although some public service pensions are integrated with the State pension, they will not solely rely on the State pension for an income anyway, unlike many private sector workers.

What has the Government done to help private sector workers?

It has done little to prevent private sector workers from being forced to retire before they are eligible for the State pension, and onto the dole.

One of its key initiatives was to ask the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to come up with a code of practice on the issue.

Some political parties have promised to legislate to stop bosses forcing workers out because of compulsory retirement clauses in their contracts.

Fine Gael has dramatically changed its stance during this election campaign and it is now promising a 'transition' pension for those who are forced to retire.

What happens if you're pushed out the door at 65?

You can sign on until you reach pension age, but you should be aware that the dole is worth €45 less a week than the full pension.

Another problem is that the pension age is a bit of a moveable feast at the moment. It currently stands at 66 but will be 67 from January 1 next year and 68 in 2028, but this could change depending on who's in government.

Some workers have challenged their employers on age discrimination grounds at the WRC, and won. Recently, former RTÉ producer Anne Roper was awarded €100,000 compensation for being forced to retire at 65.

What's coming down the line for today's workers when they retire?

Apart from the pension age hikes already flagged, there is a possibility of further increases beyond that. The Government's pensions blueprint says there will be no further increase in the State pension age prior to 2035.

But it says any change after that "will be directly linked to increases in life expectancy".

This will begin with an assessment of life expectancy in 2022. A notice period of no less than 13 years will be given in respect of any further changes before they take place.

Similar assessments of life expectancy will take place every five years after that.

Irish Independent