“Immense bench strength and universally
good quality of output.”
Running pension and retirement savings arrangements effectively is increasingly challenging for employers and trustees. Faced with an almost constant stream of changes, the need for expert legal advice has never been greater. For over 50 years we’ve been helping clients to keep on top of all developments affecting their arrangements, delivering practical guidance coupled with clear commercial advice.
Whether you are a trustee, employer, insurer or pension provider, we understand the wide range of legal and governance requirements underpinning your arrangement, as well as the inherent risks and how to minimise them. We can help you find practical, proportionate solutions that work for you. Our involvement ranges from advice on all aspects of routine management through to cutting edge one-off projects.
Against the backdrop of periodic financial volatility over the last decade or so, the DB funding environment has become increasingly complex. For businesses sponsoring DB schemes, as well as the trustees managing them, future funding demands have become a major concern. Trustees and employers are exploring more dynamic funding solutions, looking towards contingent assets such as guarantees, escrow arrangements, parent guarantees and asset-backed funding structures.
Our finance and investment specialists advise on a broad range of contingent assets and alternative funding solutions, so we are fully inside the issues that commonly arise for both trustees and employers and, crucially, how to negotiate and resolve them. We also routinely advise on the valuation process, including negotiating with overseas sponsors who may not be familiar with UK pensions issues, engaging with TPR, and agreeing appropriate covenant packages.
Managing DB liabilities effectively is one of the biggest concerns for both employers and trustees with DB pension arrangements. We work closely with both to help control their scheme liabilities. This includes advising on all aspects of benefit design and future service benefit changes such as closure, salary capping, reducing or changing future benefits, bulk transfers, ETVs, PIEs, trivial and small commutation exercises, and switching from RPI to CPI. We also advise on past service benefit changes, such as GMP reconciliation and equalisation issues.
Open DB schemes are different from other types of DB arrangements. This is the case whether a scheme is open to new members, open to future benefits or has benefits which retain a link to final salary. As the number of open DB schemes decreases, the trend towards closure and wind-up continues.
We act for a significant number of high profile large open DB schemes, providing us with in-depth knowledge of the particular issues that can arise for these schemes, and how best to navigate and address them. One area we are already focusing on is the potential implications of the new funding and investment strategy requirements.
Operational efficiency and maintaining tight controls on costs and risks are vital to the running of any retirement savings arrangement. Good governance also achieves good outcomes for members. Our governance solutions are tailored to clients’ needs, covering the demands of specific projects as well as advising on, and preparing documentation covering, ongoing obligations such as conflicts of interest, data protection, risk registers, whistleblowing and other aspects of compliance.
Increased reliance on technology in delivering benefits comes with a heightened risk of cyber-crime. We advise on software and administration agreements, business continuity risk, as well as helping clients to meet data protection requirements and new pensions dashboard obligations.
Pensions tax requirements contain many traps for the unwary. Protections from the lifetime allowance can be lost in a number of ways, requiring employers and trustees to tread carefully when it comes to automatic enrolment, transfers, GMP equalisation and certain other activities and transactions. We help employers and trustees provide smarter and more tax efficient pension benefits leading to better member outcomes, as well as advising on broader tax issues in relation to certain investment vehicles.
We are well-versed in advising on all forms of transfer, from bulk transfers driven by corporate activity through to individuals seeking to transfer out, including to a QROPS. In particular, before a statutory transfer can go ahead, specific conditions designed to reduce the potential for scams must be met. We provide clients with timely support and can check that scheme processes are up to scratch.
We regularly help clients with reviews of their member communications, including websites, investment materials and retirement packs. As well as meeting legal disclosure requirements, our advice also focuses on ways of increasing member engagement and addressing the “advice gap”. Delivering accurate and timely information through pensions dashboards will be essential, and we are actively involved in helping clients at various preparatory stages, from initial planning, cleaning up data, through to imminent staging.
For pension schemes under real strain, a fundamental restructuring may be needed to provide a feasible way forward for both members and employers.
Restructuring options include consolidating existing pension arrangements, sectionalisation, changes to future service benefits, liability management exercises, changes to how a scheme is funded on an ongoing basis, securing members’ agreement to reduce benefits, solvent and insolvent business reorganisations, regulated apportionment arrangements, winding up and PPF entry (as well as solutions which secure members’ benefits outside the PPF).
We advise employers and trustees on all aspects of pension restructurings, insolvency situations and scheme rescues, including negotiating with TPR, the PPF, other creditors and overseas parent companies, as well as on communicating with members. Our solutions help reduce the ongoing pension risks to employers’ businesses, whilst at the same time safeguarding member benefits and ensuring the best possible outcome in what are often difficult circumstances.
Regulators’ powers are expanding in both scope and complexity, with several regulatory bodies taking on a more proactive role. We have extensive experience advising trustees and employers on the investigatory powers of, and compliance and enforcement actions by, TPR, the PPF and the FCA.
We advise schemes wishing to challenge PPF levies, draft and advise on PPF contingent assets to help schemes reduce risk and levy payments, and help schemes entering PPF assessment periods with documentation, data and assessment of benefit entitlements.
To find out more about how we can help you, please contact Pauline Sibbit.