Bankrupt UK retailer’s pension fund secures €895m insurance buyout
The pension fund for collapsed UK retailer BHS has secured an £800m (€895m) insurance buyout, securing member benefits and drawing a line under part of one of the country’s most high profile pension scandals of recent years.
Pension Insurance Corporation (PIC), a specialist insurer, announced over the weekend that it had fully secured benefits for roughly 9,000 members of the British Home Stores (BHS) pension scheme, known as the BHS2 Scheme.
BHS2 was set up last year following the collapse of the UK high street chain. Pension assets were transferred from two original schemes to the new vehicle along with a £363m cash injection from former owner Sir Philip Green. Sir Philip – who sold BHS in 2015 – made the contribution following public criticism from politicians and the national media.
Chris Martin, executive chairman of independent trustee firm ITS and a trustee of the BHS2 Scheme, said the buyout was completed “far earlier than expected”.
“It has always been our goal to deliver the best possible outcome for the members of this scheme,” Martin said. “A buyout guarantees member benefits under the BHS2 Scheme, and is the most secure solution for the members of this scheme.”
Martin was also chair of the original BHS schemes.
The BHS2 Scheme’s actuary, Ben Pullen, partner at Barnett Waddingham, added: “An attractive pricing opportunity existed in the bulk annuity market, and so we proactively assisted the trustee to take advantage of the opportunity to insure member benefits.
“Reaching this outcome for the BHS2 Scheme so early is a testament to the combined efforts of all parties involved.”
Uzma Nazir, head of origination structuring at PIC, said the scheme’s trustee board had “done an excellent job of managing the assets and liabilities”.
Roughly 2,100 BHS scheme members remained with the old pension schemes, which are now in the Pension Protection Fund’s assessment period. The PPF forms a safety net for defined benefit (DB) schemes when their sponsors are declared bankrupt.
A very British pension scandal
BHS’s pension funds were thrown into the spotlight in 2016 when the high street retailer collapsed into administration a year after it was bought for the nominal fee of £1 by Retail Acquisitions Limited.
Sir Philip Green – whose Arcadia Group was the previous owner of BHS – was summoned to appear in front of a committee of MPs to answer questions about his involvement in the sale and approach to funding the pension schemes. He later agreed with the Pensions Regulator (TPR) to pay the £363m into the new scheme.
Dominic Chappell, director at Retail Acquisitions Limited, also appeared in front of MPs and has since been fined by TPR for failing to provide the watchdog with information relating to the firm’s purchase of BHS.
The BHS case has fed directly into recent government policy regarding the regulation of DB schemes. In a white paper published in March, the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions said it would legislate to introduce a new criminal offence “to punish wilful or grossly reckless behaviour of directors” in relation to a DB scheme.
The department also pledged to grant TPR more powers to fine directors and companies “to tackle irresponsible activities that may cause a material detriment to a pension scheme”.