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UK pension fund shuns PPF protection to secure full buyout

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The UK MIRA Retirement Benefits Scheme has been fully insured by Pension Insurance Corporation (PIC) as its parent was sold off to a Japanese technology company.

The scheme will now be subject to a £70m (€98.4m) bulk annuity buyout from PIC using its share of the sale of its parent MIRA, a UK research and engineering firm.

The company will also end its participation in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), where it was a contributing employer for some of its research employees.

USS has taken a share of the sale proceedings to cover MIRA’s commitments to funding its members’ benefits.

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The buyout was arranged in conjunction with the sale of the firm – with the insurer committed to providing benefits on par with the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).

The scheme’s deficit in relation to MIRA’s valuation was such that it was likely to cause bankruptcy, pushing the scheme into the PPF, according to LCP, which worked on the deal.

The Pensions Regulator, which has a statutory requirement to protect the PPF, supported the deal.

Chris Martin, independent director of the scheme’s trustee board, said: “Proceeding with the transaction provided the best outcome for members that was realistically achievable.

“The alternative would have been to fall into a PPF assessment process, which would have prolonged the uncertainty, added to costs and depleted assets available to provide benefits to members.”

Michelle Wright, partner at LCP, said the trustee board put members’ interests first rather than follow the path of least resistance.

“It is highly unusual for trustees to compromise a statutory debt and render their scheme ineligible for the PPF, but no other course of action would have provided the certainty of benefits above PPF compensation with all the protections of a regulated insurance company,” she said.

The UK bulk annuity market is gathering pace over the third quarter, with Rothesay Life annoucing a £1.6bn insurance buy-in, pushing total written business to more than £4bn.

Aaron Punwani, partner at LCP, said the deal was subject to positive market pricing for schemes and that any further delay would have caused volatility in what the trustees were able to secure.

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