Memorandum submitted by Saga Group

 

1. This response of the Saga Group reflects our views on the suite of questions posed by the Select Committee entitled "Equality in Goods, Facilities and Services".

 

2. Saga built its highly successful British business on niche marketing to the over 50s. Our robust and highly popular brand is based on trust, quality, dependability and value for older people. We focus on understanding and designing bespoke services to meet the changing needs and demands of our target market of people aged 50+ in the UK, a demographic group comprising about half the electorate and forecast to grow from 20m to 25m people by 2015.

 

3. We support measures to combat unfair discrimination that denies people the ability to live life to the full. However, a purist approach to equality would threaten our business model. For example, our insurance business, if forced to offer premiums to all age groups, would become less competitive for the over 50s because we would have to bear extra costs of quotation. Our holiday business currently serves only the over 50s and the popularity of our holidays partly depends on the over 50s being the specific target market. A Single Equality Bill, promised before the end of this Parliament, might inadvertently make all age discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities illegal. Some campaigners for equality regard the loss of benefits for the elderly as a price worth paying. We disagree.

 

4. Saga welcomes the pragmatic approach in the Government's Command Paper, "A Framework for a Fairer Future," published in June 2008. Holidays restricted to age appear to be relatively safe now that the paper specifically appears to exempt them: 'The new law will ban unjustifiable age discrimination against over-18 year olds...It will not affect the differential provision of products or services for older people where this is justified - for example free bus passes for over-60s and priority flu vaccinations for over-60s or group holidays for particular age groups or actuarially justifiable age-based treatment in areas such as financial services.' Chapter 2: Ending Age Discrimination, Pg. 16, "Framework for a Fairer Future - The Equality Bill," June 2008.

 

5. We have obtained assurances from Commissioner Spidla that group holidays by age will not be outlawed by the forthcoming Council Directive on Equal Treatment. We remain vigilant and concerned about this aspect because there are many campaigning in the equality field that any exemptions undermine the fundamental principles of what they are trying to achieve.

 

6. The Government Response to the Consultation on the Green Paper, published in July 2008, reports that legislation on banning unjustifiable discrimination of the provision of goods and services may be left to secondary legislation. Given the difficulty of influencing secondary legislation, we would prefer these issues clear on the face of the Bill, so that any perception of risk to our business model is removed in accordance with the Command Paper's clearly stated intention.

 

7. The position on insurance is rather more complex and subject to ongoing consultations. We accept that some elderly people find it more difficult to obtain holiday, car or health insurance, although since we supply these services without age limit we think Saga is part of the solution not part of the problem. There is also conflicting data just on how big the problem actually is. Mystery shopping exercises commissioned by Help the Aged and Age Concern found that 20% per cent of attempts to obtain a quotation for car or travel cover by the over-65s were unsuccessful. Conversely, a SAGA Populus survey in 2008 found that only 3% per cent of those who responded aged over 65 had been denied motor insurance on grounds of age[1]. It may be that part of the difference is explained by sampling - the Saga Populus survey covered 3,307 people over 65: the Age Concern research sample was 229.

 

8. We believe that the problem - insofar as it does exist - could be easily and relatively cheaply dealt with by the practice of signposting. The company that does not insure a particular market segment would undertake to signpost the customer towards an insurance provider that could help. The other alternative of forcing companies to quote for business they do not want will add significantly to costs.

 

9. Article 12 of the draft Directive provides for Member States to have an Equality Body at national level to promote equal treatment and give independent help to victims of discrimination through the legal system. This function in the UK will be fulfilled by the EHRC. What we cannot be certain about at the present is how purist and interventionist the EHRC may be. If it seeks to reverse the pragmatic spirit of the Command Paper, perhaps by exploiting unresolved issues on the face of the Bill, then it may represent a threat to our business model. Thus, as with the point about secondary legislation, we would prefer these issues to be settled within the primary legislation.

 

10. Article 2 of the EU Draft Directive, paras 6-7 currently seems to offer a great deal of flexibility for national interpretation of what is and is not discrimination: "Notwithstanding paragraph 2, Member States may provide that differences of treatment on grounds of age shall not constitute discrimination, if, within the context of national law, they are justified by a legitimate aim, and if the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary. In particular, this Directive shall not preclude fixing of a specific age for access to social benefits, education and certain goods or services".

 

11. On the refusal to quote or supply insurance by age, it is not clear to us whether Article 3.1(d) (access to and supply of goods and services) of the draft would cause difficulty by identifying it as discrimination. We are seeking official clarification. The Commission regards the pricing in of genuine risk factors by age as acceptable, but wants to consult with the industry and other stakeholders to achieve a better understanding of the areas where age or disability are relevant for the design and pricing of products. In this respect the Commission seems to be at a parallel stage to the UK Government in its consideration of these matters.

 

12. The question: "Does the Equality Bill incorporate the provisions of the Draft Directive?" is very pertinent. At present, the European Parliament is taking a view on the Council's Draft Directive, and there are attempts being made to tighten up provisions, notably around insurance, and disability. Our best assessment is that this Directive may not emerge in final form before the second half of next year. Therefore, the Equality Bill is unlikely to be able to incorporate all the provisions of the Directive as it emerges from the legislative pipeline. We think that it would make more sense for the Equality Bill to be legislated after the Directive is completed. Otherwise, the UK may be faced with returning to Parliament to amend or legislate anew.

 

Summary

 

Saga's business model is based on niche marketing to the over-50s. Research shows that people support age discrimination in marketing which is beneficial.

 

We urge that the forthcoming Equality Bill legislates only against discrimination that is harmful and exempts justifiable age-based treatment in the provision of goods and services.

 

We recommend that legislation on banning unjustifiable discrimination of the provision of goods and services is settled in primary legislation. This will help us to avoid potential difficulties involved in predicting or complying with secondary legislation.

 

For the problem of ensuring that the elderly have better access to insurance we recommend the adoption of signposting so that an insurance company which does not wish to quote is obliged to point the customer to a company that will.

 

 

It makes more sense for the Equality Bill to be legislated after the Directive is completed. Otherwise, the UK may be faced with returning to Parliament to amend or legislate anew.

 

Appendix A

 

Survey of 500 Saga travel customers

> 78% prefer to go on holiday with others aged 50 and over

> 97% do not object to holiday companies that offer holidays for particular age groups

 

BMRB survey of 2,004 adults

> 93% do not object to goods and services being offered at a discount to people of a particular age

> 57% think that it would be a bad thing if legislation made it illegal to offer holidays confined to a certain age group. Only 9% thought it would be a good thing

> 60% thought it would be a bad thing if legislation made it illegal to offer discounts on goods and services to people on the basis of their age. Only 13% thought it would be a good thing

 

Saga/Populus online survey of 14,809 adults over 50 December 2006

> 84% agreed that discounts on products should be offered to specific age groups

> 86% feel it acceptable to sell products such as holidays and car insurance that are confined to specific age groups

 

Saga European Omnibus Polling of 4312 adults across Europe March 2008

>78% of Spanish respondents felt that businesses that offer discounts or favourable terms on products and services to specific age groups acceptable, while those from Germany were least likely to think so (62%).

> Again, German respondents were least likely to think that businesses that promote and sell products such as holidays or car insurance confined to specific age groups were acceptable (54%), while Spanish respondents were most likely to do so (73%).

> 64% of all respondents disagreed that offering discounts or favourable terms on products and services to specific age groups should become illegal under European age discrimination legislation.

 

Appendix B

 

Between April and May 2008, 101 MEPs were surveyed using self-completion postal and online questionnaires.

 

When asked whether they thought it is a good or bad thing that some holiday companies offer holidays to a certain age group, such as 18-30 or over 50s, more than four out of every five MEPs (84%) are either neutral in their opinion (46%) or think that it is a good thing (38%). Only 8% think such holidays are a bad thing.

 

MEPs unequivocally think that the EU should NOT make it illegal to offer holidays to a particular age group. Only 4% of MEPs think that it should be made illegal while 83% do not.

 

MEPs are very much in favour of the practice of offering discounts to people of a particular age, for example people over 60. Nearly nine out of ten MEPs think that it is either a good thing (62%) or a neutral thing (27%). Only 6% think it is a bad thing.

 

MEPs were asked whether discounts on goods and services offered to certain age groups should be made illegal by the EU. Nearly nine out of ten MEPs (87%) do not think such discounts should be made illegal. Only 6% of MEPs think such activity should be made illegal.

 

MEPs were in turn asked whether they thought it is a good or bad thing that some insurance companies specialise in offering insurance to specific age groups. In partial contrast to the earlier result about discounts to over 60s, while 72% of MEPs think it is a good (33%) or neutral thing (39%), 20% of MEPs think that such activity by insurance companies is a bad thing.

 

Therefore linking the two issues, protection of the elderly and offering age specific discounts on insurance products, could increase the level of support for the latter.

 

The majority of MEPs (63%) do not think that the EU should make it illegal for companies to confine their insurance business to certain age groups only. However 22% of MEPs do think it should be illegal.

 

November 2008



[1] The Saga Populus poll found that three quarters (77%) of respondents support the idea of insurance companies being obliged to quote everyone regardless of age. However, it found support for this fell away significantly when the implications for Saga were made clear: 40% now supported the idea, 28% were neutral and 29% said it was a bad idea. Furthermore, there were fears of a fall in the quality of service offered by specialists such as Saga if anti-discrimination law obliged insurance companies to sell to all regardless of age - 61% feared that this would be the case. In fact, when the question was put a different way - should promoting and selling to particular groups be banned, three quarters disagreed. Nor was there appetite for age discrimination law to be expanded to cover discounts offered to particular age groups (78% disagreed).