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British Steel Pension Scheme

Published Tuesday, April 24, 2018

An overview to recent debates on the British Steel Pension Scheme

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In March 2016, Tata Steel UK announced that they had lost £2 billion in five years, and that Tata was unable to continue covering these losses. Tata said that it would explore all options for restructuring the UK steel business, and wanted to move quickly to secure a sale of Tata Steel UK. This raised questions about the future of the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) which was in deficit. The Government said that, given its size, it was likely that as part of the sale, it would need to be separated from the business. (DWP factsheet: Consultation on the British Steel Pension Scheme)

Consultation on changes to scheme rules

In May 2016, the current Government launched a consultation on what might be done to help the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) in the wider context of efforts to protect the UK steel industry. This included a proposal from the trustees to be allowed to reduce indexation and revaluation on future payment of accrued pension rights. For them to be able to do this, the Government would need to amend the ‘subsisting rights provisions’, which prevent detrimental changes to accrued rights without member consent (Pensions Act 1995, s67). The trustees said the proposals were in the best interests of the Scheme membership. However, some commentators expressed concern at the wider implications of undermining the principle that pension promises, once made, cannot be changed retrospectively.

Scheme restructure

On 16 May 2017, the Pensions Regulator (TPR) reported that the key commercial terms of a Regulated Apportionment Arrangement (RAA) had been agreed. It would continue to work with Tata Steel UK and the trustee “in respect of the proposal to offer members an option to transfer to a new scheme sponsored by TSUK, which may occur should the approval to the RAA be granted, or stay in the BSPS and receive PPF compensation” (TPR statement, 16 May 2017). On 11 August 2017, TPR said it had given initial approval to a proposal from Tata Steel UK to restructure the BSPS through an RAA. As part of this, the BSPS would receive £550 million from the Tata Steel Group, “significantly more than it would receive in insolvency, and a 33% equity stake in TSUK.” Following the completion of the RAA, scheme members would be offered the choice to either transfer to a new scheme (if it meets certain qualifying conditions) which will be sponsored by TSUK, or remain in the existing scheme which will transfer to the PPF. (PN17-48, 11 August 2017) The deal received formal approval from TPR on 11 September 2017.

Options exercise

All scheme members had until 22 December to choose between two options:

  • to switch to a new scheme (the New BSPS) providing the same benefits as BSPS but with lower future increases; or
  • to remain with the current BSPS and move into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF). (BSPS press release, 11 September 2017)

People with more than a year to go before pension age (65) also had the option to transfer their rights out.

In a report published in February 2018 the Work and Pensions Select Committee described the member communication plan as "woefully inadequate" and said the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) had done "too little, too late" to address concerns about the suitability of advice given to those considering a transfer.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8288

Author: Djuna Thurley

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