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Altmann warns on pension gap

Pension campaigner Ros Altmann says the trustees of Northern Rock’s pension scheme must ask the Gov-ernment to fill the estim-ated £100m deficit in the fund now that the firm has been nationalised.

Altmann says it is the responsibility of trustees to take advantage of the situation to benefit the pension fund. But she says it is unfair that Northern Rock’s staff will have a pension scheme effectively underwritten by the Government.

She says: “It will be the safest private sector scheme in the country. The whole thing is outrageous. It is of huge cost to the taxpayer although the pension scheme liabilities are minuscule compared with the cost of nationalisation as a whole.

“But the trustees have got to take advantage of this temporary ownership because whatever happens after this, the sponsor will not be as strong as the Government. While the Government is in charge, they need to get enough money into the scheme to buy it out. It may well be that the Government will resist and then perhaps The Pensions Regulator should play a role.”

Pinsent Masons pensions partner Anthea Whitton says: “How would any such action be perceived by those pension scheme members whose companies have failed and who now rely on thelimited protection available through the Financial Assistance Scheme?

“How does the support being offered to Northern Rock by the Government fit with the stated position that it will not be a guarantor of last resort to the Pension Protection Fund?”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman says: “It is business as usualat Northern Rock. The pension scheme is managed bya board of trustees and there is an employer covenant in place. It is for the trustees to manage the scheme in the best interests of its members overseen by the PensionsRegulator. The PPF continues to act as a safety net for occupational pension schemes, including Northern Rock.”

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