When is a guarantee not a guarantee
When is a guarantee not a guarantee? Members of the BHS Pension Scheme must be wondering that after news broke that the scheme, into which both they and their employer diligently contributed into, is £571 million in deficit. Questions are being asked as to how it ended up in this situation, given that the Trustees of the scheme were supposed to operate within quite strict guidelines, within a regulatory regime that doesn’t usually miss much. It is at this point that a short history lesson is perhaps needed.
The more mature reader will no doubt remember the Robert Maxwell Affair. The former owner of Mirror Group Newspapers (under rules that were allowed at that time) regularly dipped into the wonderfully overfunded Mirror Pension Scheme to prop up his ailing business, to the tune of around £500 million. When this didn’t work, he (allegedly) took a swallow dive off the back of his boat, leaving others to clear up the mess he’d created.
Much hand-wringing in the corridors of power resulted in more stringent rules being put in place to avoid a repetition and to which pension scheme trustees would henceforth have to abide by. Bear in mind, that the employer was generally the trustee of its own scheme, being told to conform to new rules limiting what they could and couldn’t do was a challenge; in the end the regulator focused on policing the funding position of schemes….no more than 110% overfunded and no less than 90% underfunded. This led to overfunded schemes using imaginative ways to reduce its funding position such as providing contribution holidays to its members or giving discretionary increases to retiring members’ benefits for example. Another bright idea was the introduction of reporting requirements that insisted on pension fund deficits being carried through to the company balance sheet – that’ll stop those pesky company executives from massaging their company’s financial position.
Pension Protection Fund (PPF)
Fast forward a few years to the start of the millennium when three years of turmoil in equity markets had a disastrous impact on those funding positions…whoops! This resulted in the creation of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), a funding mechanism put in place to safeguard the benefits of pension scheme members in the event of company failure. The government of the day decreed that PPF should be funded by the family of pension schemes themselves…..anyone spot the flaw in this? At some indefinable future date, it will fail because the ratio of fully funded schemes will reduce, whilst the number of failing companies increases. Interestingly, one of my colleagues in Spain has analyzed the funding position of the PPF, the results of which are on the Spectrum IFA Group’s website. To the end of January 2016, there are 5,945 member schemes in the PPF, 4,923 of which are in deficit, and only 1,022 in surplus. The average funding position across all companies is 80% (remember the ‘no less than 90% underfunded’ rule?); the deficit position of the PPF is £304.9 billion.
Perhaps, this is the real reason why Pensions Flexibility was introduced? Encourage pension policyholders including members of final salary pension schemes (also known as Defined Benefit or DB Schemes) “to take control of their own retirements”, or buy a Lamborghini if you prefer! The lure of that invitation has not been lost on the Great British pension public, which has resulted in meaningful conversations being had between them and their IFA’s. In some cases, it really is beneficial to take the transfer value offered and put it into a personal pension arrangement, but I stress this does depend on individual circumstances.
Are you a member of a Defined Benefit Pension Scheme?
If you are a member of a defined benefit pension scheme and would like us to carry out an analysis to determine how valuable it is to you and your circumstances, ring for an appointment or take advantage of our Friday Morning Drop-in Clinic, here at our office in Limoux. And don’t forget, there is no charge for these meetings. There is also no charge for the gathering of information from your pension scheme administrator, after which we will put you in a much more-enlightened position as to your benefits.