R (Carson) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

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R (Carson and Reynolds) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.svg
Court House of Lords
Decided 26 May 2005
Citation(s) [2005] 2 WLR 1369, [2005] UKHL 37, 18 BHRC 677, [2005] UKHRR 1185, [2005] 4 All ER 545, [2006] 1 AC 173, [2005] HRLR 23
Case history
Prior action(s) [2003] EWCA Civ 797
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe and Lord Carswell
Age discrimination

R v SS for Work and Pensions ex parte Carson and Reynolds [2005] UKHL 37 and [2010] ECHR 338 is a UK labour law and Human Rights Act 1998 case on age discrimination.


Ms Reynolds was under 25 in a council flat, on jobseekers and income support. She got £41.35 and if she was over 25 she would have got £52.20. She claimed this breached Article 14 ECHR. The Secretary of State said 18- to 24-year-olds earn less, mostly do not live independently, they should be discouraged from living independently, there is welfare support for this group in other ways, and good administration depends on clear rules like this.


House of Lords[edit]

The House of Lords accepted the Secretary of State's arguments. Lord Walker drew on US law (San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez (1973) 411 US 1; Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia (1976) 427 US 307) and Lord Nicholls in Ghaidan v. Godin-Mendoza [2004] 2 AC 557, 568, saying they would intensely scrutinise race, sex and orientation justifications. But age was not in that.

It is "a personal characteristic," said Lord Walker, "but it is different in kind from other personal characteristics. Every human being starts life as a tiny infant and none of us can do anything to stop the passage of the years." Lines must be drawn somewhere, and following Murgia, "drawing lines which create distinctions is peculiarly a legislative task and an unavoidable one. Perfection in making the necessary classifications is neither possible nor necessary." It was also noted that the age qualification had replaced a previous unworkable qualification of householders and non-householders.

European Court of Human Rights[edit]

The ECHR rejected Ms Carson's claim.[1]

See also[edit]

  • UK employment discrimination law
  • UK labour law
  • Human Rights Act 1998
  • Mangold v. Helm [2006] IRLR 143, German laws exempted workers from fixed term contract protection if over 52 years old. The ECJ held that though the aim was legitimate (integrating older workers into the labour market) the means were not proportionate. The point was made that it applied without distinctions, e.g. whether or not workers had been unemployed before and for how long. ‘Member States unarguably enjoy broad discretion in their choice of the measures capable of attaining their objectives in the field of social and employment policy.’ (at 63)


  1. ^ [2010] ECHR 338