TPR pledges to ‘use its teeth’ and threatens section 231 action against recalcitrant employers

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Trustees can expect The Pensions Regulator (TPR) to intervene in their favour if sponsors are not fulfilling their obligations to a scheme, Andrew Warwick-Thompson says.

The watchdog's executive director for regulatory policy explained the annual funding statement published last month sets "the direction of travel" for more assertive supervision.

In a speech at the Association of Member Nominated Trustees' (AMNT's) summer conference held today, Warwick-Thompson argued TPR was not afraid to use its powers if needed.

He said, while it can be hard for companies to strike a balance between dividend payments and scheme contributions, this was no excuse for sponsors to dodge obligations to pension plans.

Warwick-Thompson said: "We want trustees to ensure they do their very best to make their sponsors understand that scheme contributions are important and cannot be ignored to just pay out dividends to shareholders."

"This year's annual funding statement is the most direct we have ever produced and sets the direction of travel. It allows trustees to understand what we expect them to do and also clarifies for the regulator about when it should intervene."

If there is a failure to get adequate contributions TPR could use section 231 of the Pensions Act 2004, which has never been used before, to impose a contributions schedule and also demand a shorter recovery plan, Warwick-Thompson added.

However he also warned that a more muscular approach from the watchdog would not produce results in the short-term.

"Trustees can expect support from us if they cannot get the sponsor to strike the right balance between dividend payments and scheme contributions.

"We are using our teeth but it takes time. If we used a section 231, for instance, it would take years to resolve and I think it would be taken all the way to the Supreme Court."

Warwick-Thompson is stepping down from his role at TPR in July and is joining the £40bn LGPS Central as chief executive.

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