Pressure mounts on Pensions Regulator over BHS collapse

Lesley Titcombe

Pressure is mounting on the Pensions Regulator after it emerged it only realised BHS was on the brink of collapse after reading about it in the newspapers.

Chief executive Lesley Titcomb was grilled by MPs yesterday at a special evidence session held jointly by the Work and Pensions and Business committees, according to the BBC.

She revealed TPR had first been in discussions with BHS over its pensions deficit – now valued at £571m – in 2009.

MP Richard Fuller said the pensions watchdog “did not sound like much of a regulator”.

Titcomb said the regulator opened an anti-avoidance case to determine whether the previous owners should be pursued to make up the shortfall when the Retail Acquisitions takeover was announced.

The scheme will now fall into the Pension Protection Fund, the lifeboat for defined benefit schemes. Chief executive Alan Rubenstein told MPs BHS’s trustees submitted a 23-year plan to clear the deficit, but that the average recovery period was nine years.

The PPF will take a £275m hit as result of taking on the fund, he said.

Top Shop owner Sir Philip Green is due to give evidence at a later date and has stoked further controversary by calling for DWP committee chair Frank Field to step down.

Prior to the inquiry Field said Green should be stripped of his knighthood and be made to fill in the pension scheme’s deficit.

In reply, Green said: “Clearly he has already made his decision as to what he feels the punishment should be without even hearing any evidence from anybody about BHS or the circumstances of the last 15 years.”