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UK roundup: Regulator hits trustee and solicitor with fines

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The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has levied fines totalling more than £22,000 (€26,000) on two individuals and a law firm for refusing to supply information.

In the first case, it fined the head of a small disabled charity £6,500 for refusing to provide copies of his bank statements.

Patrick McLarry, the chief executive of Hampshire-based Yateley Industries for the Disabled, “failed to provide the required documents to TPR despite being pursued for them for over 18 months”, the regulator said in a statement.

McLarry is a former trustee of the charity’s pension fund.

McLarry claimed that sending the documents to TPR would have been a breach of French privacy laws as they related to a French bank account. TPR eventually had to take McLarry to court to obtain the documents.

“The harm caused by Mr McLarry’s actions was unknown but the consequent elongation of TPR’s investigation has caused delay and an increase in costs,” the regulator said.

Nicola Parish, TPR’s executive director for frontline regulation, said: “This is another example of how we will use our powers to take action against individuals who hamper our investigations into the management of pension schemes. Refusing to comply with a legal request from The Pensions Regulator will not be tolerated.”

In a separate case, a solicitor and the firm at which he is a partner were collectively fined £16,000.

Anthony Wilson, managing partner at London law firm Ashley Wilson Solicitors, failed to provide documents to TPR – despite the regulator chasing them for nine months.

The regulator requested the documents in relation to a pension scam investigation, it said, but it made clear that neither Wilson nor his firm had done anything wrong.

Nevertheless, Wilson’s failure to supply the documents despite repeated requests resulted in the fines being levied. The judge who made the rulings said there were insufficient checks and balances at the law firm.

The case involved the first criminal convictions secured by TPR.

Master trusts on the rise

The use of defined contribution (DC) master trusts by the UK’s leading companies has almost doubled in two years, according to Willis Towers Watson’s LifeSight master trust.

Of companies listed in the FTSE 350 index, 15% used master trusts as their primary DC provision, LifeSight said. This compared to 8% in 2015. Almost all of these companies (98%) offer DC pensions to new hires, rather than defined benefit.

Master trusts are a form of DC scheme designed to provide for multiple employers. The most notable in the UK is the National Employment Savings Trust, set up by the government in 2010 to aid its auto-enrolment policy.

Jo Kite, managing director at LifeSight, said: “While contract-based [DC] arrangements usage has marginally shrunk, master trust usage has doubled, showing a clear direction of travel. As many companies are still only part way through this process, we expect the trend to continue.”

Northern Ireland closes funding gap

Northern Ireland’s £5.8bn local government pension scheme (NILGOPF) saw its deficit almost halve in the three years to the end of March 2016, according to its latest actuarial valuation.

The valuation report, published earlier this week, showed the scheme had a shortfall of £262.6m in March 2016. Three years earlier this figure was £467m.

NILGOPF’s funding ratio at the most recent valuation was 96%, up from 91% in 2013. This was in part due to an annual investment return of 7.1% in the three-year period measured.

BMW workers confirm strike

Workers’ union Unite has confirmed employees of BMW in four UK factories will strike eight times during April and May in protest at the closure of the company’s defined benefit pension scheme.

Unite claimed the closure would cost some workers as much as £160,000 in retirement income, and described the move as “pension robbery”.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “BMW’s refusal to talk about affordable options to keep the pension scheme open means a sizeable chunk of its UK workforce will be taking strike action for the first time in the coming weeks. Bosses in the UK and BMW’s headquarters in Munich cannot feign surprise that it’s come to this point. Unite has repeatedly warned of the anger their insistence to railroad through the pension scheme’s closure would generate and the resulting industrial action.”

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