The Youth Contract launched yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has come under criticism for potentially opening up employers to claims of age discrimination from older workers.

Under the scheme, the taxpayer will give companies more than £2,200 for every new young person they employ.

But lawyers have warned that applicants aged 25 or over may be discriminated against and lose out on a job to a younger applicant, and even in its official guidance advises employers to seek legal advice before taking part in the scheme.

The Guidance states:

‘It is possible that a legal challenge could be brought against DWP. If this happened, we would strongly argue that the Youth Contract, including the wage incentive scheme, was justified.

‘It is also possible that employers could face a legal challenge. If this happened, an Employment Tribunal would wish to consider the employer’s reasons for participating in the scheme. Each case will turn on its merits.’

Camilla Palmer, an age discrimination lawyer at Leigh Day, told The Telegraph that older workers may well have a good case against the Government or employers.

“A 25-year-old is not going to be able to take advantage of this scheme, even though they may be in exactly the same position as someone who is 24.

“I would be the first to agree that youth unemployment is a big issue. But in my view it should not just be open to young people. It’s up to the courts ultimately to say whether it’s justified.”

Andreas White, Employment Partner at Kingsley Napley, agreed the scheme was “prima facie age discrimination” but it would be possible for governments and employers to argue that it is “objectively justified in the circumstances”.

“My own view is that this scheme should be capable of objective justification because it’s addressing the very serious issue of growing youth unemployment,” he said.

“The scheme could face legal challenges directed at the Government, or employers directly, but ultimately I would be surprised if they succeeded.”