ABI will lobby to stop Equal Treatment Directive dropping financial services exemption

The government has vowed to fight Europe pushing through a ban on age or disability discrimination in insurance, which is back in the spotlight following the gender ban.

The director-general of the Government Equalities Office, Jonathan Rees, said the coalition would fight an age or disability ban, which could creep into the Equal Treatment Directive (ETD). Germany has blocked the directive at the Council of Europe, but the European Commission is keen to see it rubber-stamped.

“We believe there is no direct or imminent impact in terms of age or disability,” Rees told the ABI’s biennial conference. “And we are not in any hurry to reach agreement on that directive. It requires unanimity [at the Council of Europe].”

The EDT currently has an ‘exemption clause’ for financial services, permitting age or disability to be used in “the assessment of risk based on relevant and accurate acturial or statistical data”.

The Commission says that the clause could be dropped in light of Test-Achats, the legal case that triggered the gender ban. Insurers are pinning their hopes on the ABI to lobby the European insurance umbrella body CEA and the Treasury for the exemption clause to remain. The ABI is currently exploring ways to bullet-proof the directive to protect against a backdoor legal challenge.

But partner at law firm Beachcroft Matthew Rutter warned that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU enshrined the principles of non-discrimination of age and disability. He said: “It is hard to see how the same logic would not be applied. That will be problematic.”

Pass notes: Equal Treatment Directive

What is the Equal Treatment Directive?
In July 2008, the European Commission published
its proposal for an anti-discrimination directive covering goods and services in the four remaining grounds not already covered by EU law: age, sexual orientation, religion or belief and disability.

Will it ever pass?
The UK government launched a consultation two years ago, expecting a passing of the directive, but since then the Council of Europe has blocked it. The likelihood is that the directive will eventually make its way through, but not for at least another year.