Andrew Cave says that insurers will have to adapt to the new age discrimination legislation

Before you read this column, I'd like to request that you stipulate your age. I'm not being ageist. Far from it. It would just help me to know. Actually, it would have been ideal if you could have emailed it in before I started work on this article.

Then I could have made sure it was tailored to your precise demographics. Maybe a special offer could have been included. In some instances, it might have been appropriate to ask you not to read any further.

I hope you don't think that's unreasonable or far-fetched? It is how the insurance industry has operated for many years (sorry) after all. The problem is that it's a far cry from the spirit behind the new anti-ageism laws that came in at the beginning of this month. Maybe I won't always be able to request such information. And perhaps insurers won't either.

Just read what Lindsay Scott of Help the Aged Scotland told The Scotsman newspaper this month. "Ageism covers a far wider area than just employment, and we want to see wider protective legislation," she said. "We want to see it cover goods and services: insurance, for example, and travel. Age has to become compatible with gender, disability and race."

Anti-ageism legislation covering insurance? It's enough to have underwriters quivering in their boots. One only has to look at the chaos that the latest anti-ageism legislation has created to see the potential implications if such a wish-list became reality.

Already, lawyers are claiming that the new rules banning age discrimination in the workforce may backfire because they make it significantly more costly and complex for companies to keep workers on over the age of 65 and many will choose to let them retire rather than risk legal wrangles.

There are also claims that the new age discrimination laws could make the government's two-tier minimum wage illegal. The age-old (sorry again) practice of company birthday cards being passed round the office for workers to sign has been scrapped by Bournemouth insurance broker Alan & Thomas because of legal worries prompted by the new legislation. Even Premiership football clubs face a legal challenge to their policy of offering only one-year contracts to players over 30. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger must be relieved that his decision to get rid of Robert Pires was taken before 1 October.

Imagine what would happen if insurers had to cope with all this. How would it affect underwriting models? Is the industry ready to defend its corner on health or motor insurance? Would insurers that market themselves on offering or denying policies to certain age bands be able to survive? Maybe they had better start thinking about it now.

Judging by the havoc the new rules are causing in employment agencies, investment banks, human resources and in-house legal departments, the insurance industry might want to start putting together a cohesive explanation and justification of age-related practices that it doesn't believe it can operate properly without. After all, few people outside insurance are likely to stick up for the industry on this one. IT

' Andrew Cave is the former associate City editor of the Daily Telegraph