Pensions regulator calls for power to intervene in company mergers

Lesley Titcombe

The Pensions Regulator has called for more power to intervene in company mergers where it thinks final-salary pension schemes might be at risk.

Firms with large pension deficits would need to tell TPR if they were planning to sell up, allowing the regulator to stop scheme liabilities being dumped if it needs to.

In an interview with the BBC, TPR chief executive Lesley Titcomb says a bolstered remit for the regulator could stop sales going through without TPR’s knowledge.

Titcomb says: “We may need new powers in certain situations. For example, where a company is being sold and the scheme is significantly underfunded, then it may be appropriate for the regulator to be told in advance about the transaction, and it may be appropriate for us to have the power to intervene in some way, which we don’t have at the moment.

“There’s no requirement to tell us. There’s no requirement to come to us for clearance and we have no power to intervene if people do.

“The vast majority of employers comply with the law and do the right thing. What we want to tackle is the particular limited set of circumstances where, for example, a sale can go ahead without us being aware of it.”

TPR has been questioned as part of an inquiry by MPs into the collapse of high street retailer BHS which has left a reported pension deficit of £600m.

Under its current powers it can take action in the aftermath of sales if they were found to be specifically designed to reduce pension liabilities, but cannot proactively intervene on sales.