Age Limit on Student Loans Violates Human Rights Court Rules

universityIn a resounding decision, a court has ruled that a middle-aged woman who hoped to rebuild her life through education suffered age discrimination when she was refused a student loan simply because she had passed the threshold age of 55. The case was heard in Scotland but the principles of human rights and equality law involved have effect both sides of the border.

The woman had been unemployed for about 30 years due to health problems and her duties as a carer for her elderly father. She had nevertheless set her heart on setting up her own catering business and, with that objective in mind, had enrolled on a course of higher education.

The Student Awards Agency for Scotland, however, refused to grant her a student loan to cover her living expenses. That was on the basis of the Education (Student Loans) (Scotland) Regulations 2007, which restrict eligibility for such loans to persons under the age of 55.

In upholding the woman’s judicial review challenge, the Outer House of the Court of Session found that her right to education was engaged. The age limit, which did not admit of exceptions, was also incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans discrimination.

Arguments that the age restriction was proportionate and justified on fiscal grounds – it being less likely that persons aged over 55 would be able to pay off a loan in the working years remaining to them – were rejected. It was also found that the Scottish Ministers had failed in their duty under the Equality Act 2010 to properly assess the discriminatory effect of the Regulations. The Court would hear further argument as to the appropriate relief to be granted to the woman.

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