The default retirement age might have been abolished across the country, but police officers are more likely to face compulsory retirement.

Confronted with budgetary cuts, at least 13 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have so far employed the previously little-used pensions regulation A19– allowing officers to be compulsorily retired after 30 years of pensionable service.

“It’s completely inappropriate as it’s not what A19 was intended for in the first place,” said Police Federation chairman Paul McKeever. “We are losing some of our most experienced officers en masse.”

But the regulation has been defended by police forces invoking its use, who are facing huge pressure to reduce front-line officer numbers as well as back-office civilian staff and overhead costs.

Chris Haselden, HR director at Devon and Cornwall Police, explained that his force was planning to lose 700 of its 3,500 officer posts in the next four years – through natural wastage and voluntary and compulsory retirement.

“The bottom line is that you can’t make police officers redundant and can only lose officers out of the workforce at the rate they choose to leave,” Haselden said. “ A19 is the only mechanism we have got over and above natural wastage.”

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He envisaged that of those officers in Devon and Cornwall who would be forcibly retired via A19, half would have been planning to leave after 30 years’ service, while the remainder would have preferred to continue working.

Haselden, who is also chairman of the CIPD Police Forum, acknowledged that some police officers felt aggrieved at being retired early, but said the application of this regulation was being carried out against a backdrop of redundancies among civilian police staff, who faced less generous payouts.

One employment lawyer told PM that police forces could be leaving themselves open to claims of indirect or unjustified age discrimination, by exercising a method that put older officers at greater risk of losing their job.

But this has not been tested in court, and police forces are confident they are on solid ground.