Court Case Analyzes Validity of Pension Scheme Amendment and Age Discrimination Claims

Citation: [2024] EWHC 48 (Ch)
Judgment on


In the High Court case “Newell Trustees Limited v Newell Rubbermaid UK Services Limited & Anor: 2024”, the central legal topics revolve around the validity of a pension scheme amendment and claims of age discrimination. The case is a deep dive into pension law, specifically the legality of transferring members from a Final Salary (FS) scheme to a Money Purchase (MP) scheme, and the protective measures afforded by provisions known as “Courage provisos”. It also scrutinizes the implications of age discrimination legislation on pension scheme entitlements.

Key Facts

The case arises from a 1992 amendment to a pension scheme resulting in a division of members based on their age. Those under 40 were automatically transferred to a new MP section with accrued final salary benefits converted to a cash sum, while members aged 40 to 44 were given the choice to transfer, and individuals over 45 kept their FS scheme benefits. The challenge brought by Newell Trustees Limited aimed to clarify the legality of the transfer and conversion as well as address potential age discrimination issues.

The court focused on several key legal principles:

  1. Effectiveness of Pension Scheme Amendments: The court scrutinized whether the amendment mechanism implemented by an “Interim Amending Deed” in 1992 followed by a “Definitive Trust Deed” in 1993 was legally effective in establishing an MP section and converting members’ benefits.

  2. Proviso to the Power of Amendment – Courage Proviso: The case examined whether the amendment fell within the scope of the proviso that prohibits amendments prejudicing or impairing accrued benefits. Specifically, it looked into whether the amendment could validly terminate FS benefits for members under 45 without breaching the proviso and considered the concept of “accrued benefits”.

  3. Age Discrimination in Pension Schemes: The court analyzed whether actions taken in 1992, prior to the legal prohibition of age discrimination, could constitute unlawful age discrimination at the time that benefits are paid, under current law, as per the Equality Act 2010.

  4. Temporal Limitations and EU Law: Another issue was whether historical pensionable service prior to age discrimination becoming unlawful could be subject to equal treatment, in light of temporal limitation provisions, EU law, and subsequent Brexit legislation.


The court concluded that:

  1. The 1992 amendment effectively established an MP section and converted FS to MP benefits. The conversion itself did not breach the Courage proviso; however, an underpin applying retrospectively to preserve the link to final pensionable salary was required.

  2. Concerning age discrimination, the court determined that there was no rule in the pension scheme conflicting with the non-discrimination rule, and thus, the Trustee would not be obliged to act in contravention of said rule and no act of age discrimination occurred.

  3. Justification for the transitional arrangements, if needed, was established based on inter-generational fairness and the legitimate aim of cushioning the impact on older employees. These aims were balanced against the potential detriment to younger members.

  4. The temporal limitation provisions from the pre-Brexit era were deemed inapplicable. Post-Brexit, the court indicated that the principles of EU law relevant to this case would likely be considered redundant due to the new Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023.


The court’s detailed analysis reaffirmed the strength of the Courage proviso in protecting accrued benefits in pension schemes and upheld the principle that changes in pension rules should not retroactively affect members’ accrued benefits. The ruling also provided clarity on the application of age discrimination legal principles to pension schemes, acknowledging that historical decisions made before the enactment of anti-discrimination laws cannot be judged by current standards. Furthermore, Brexit’s impact on retirement benefits and the convergence of UK and EU law were acknowledged, signifying a shift in the legal approach post-Brexit. This case signifies a crucial milestone in pension law, providing a significant precedent for how amendments to pension schemes should be treated and the boundaries of age discrimination within this context.