The UK’s Pensions Regulator (TPR) will head to court next year as it attempts to force broadcaster ITV to fund a pension scheme.
TPR wants ITV to pay contributions to close a £90m (€99m) deficit in the Box Clever Group Pension Scheme. The scheme is connected to Box Clever, a firm formed in 2000 through a merger involving ITV’s predecessor company Granada. The company went bust in 2003.
In a statement published today, TPR said the UK Court of Appeal had rejected an appeal from ITV against a ruling allowing the regulator to bring in new evidence in the case, which has been running for nearly six years.
It was the fourth time the UK courts had considered the case and agreed with TPR’s position, the regulator said.
The regulator issued a “financial support direction” (FSD) to ITV in December 2011. FSDs create a legal requirement on a company to contribute to deficit repairs within a pension scheme it has links to.
The company referred the decision to the Upper Tribunal court in 2012, but since then the two parties have been involved in a protracted legal battle that delayed the case coming to court.
Mike Birch, TPR’s director of case management, said the ruling “brings closer the prospect of greater certainty for members”.
“We have fought at every stage to bring our case for an FSD and are pleased the courts have agreed with our position,” Birch said. “This sends a clear message that we will not shy away from pursuing regulatory action to protect workplace pensions.”
A spokesman for ITV said the company believed the case to be “wholly unmeritorious”.
“ITV has never participated in the Box Clever scheme and has had no control over the growth of its deficit,” the spokesman said. “ITV believes strongly that there will be cases in which it is appropriate for the regulator to use its powers, but equally strongly that Box Clever is not one of them.”
He added: “The tribunal previously stated in its judgment that the regulator has not alleged, and does not allege now, that there was anything improper or negligent about ITV’s conduct. Yet ITV is being pursued for unquantified sums in relation to a transaction that took place 17 years ago, before the regulator ever existed, and before the current powers it seeks to evoke were even on the statute book.
“ITV has defended the case robustly over the last six years and will continue to do so.”
The hearing will start on 29 January 2018 and will be the first time an anti-avoidance case by TPR has been heard in full in the Upper Tribunal, the regulator said.