NEWS   |    October 15, 2021

What can employers expect from DWP’s notifiable events consultation?

The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a consultation on new regulations, which will change the requirements to notify The Pensions Regulator (TPR) of certain transactions. Section 69 of the Pensions Act, 2004 already requires the trustees and employers involved in a pension scheme to notify TPR when certain events take place. The government intends to expand the list of prescribed events, while also increasing the amount of information to be sent. The consultation runs until 27 October 2021.

Amongst several smaller definitional changes, the draft regulations set out two major new notifiable events. One relates to the sale of a material proportion of the business or assets of a scheme employer. The other relates to granting or extending security with priority over the scheme.

Originally, the sale of business or assets notifiable event was only going to apply to employers with responsibility for over 20% of the scheme’s funding liabilities.  That threshold has been removed to relieve employers of the complex task of calculating the proportion of liabilities which fall to them.

TPR may have to be notified of a proposed transaction very early on. The draft regulations suggest the requirement to notify is triggered once “a decision in principle” has been made – before any negotiations have begun in earnest. This earlier notification requirement also applies to one of the existing notifiable events, namely a decision by a controlling company to relinquish control of an employer company.

The government also proposes a new requirement for the appropriate person – the employer or connected or associated person – to give notice to TPR of certain intended transactions for which “the main terms have been proposed”.

Notifications will need to be sent to TPR with accompanying statements, while a copy must also be sent to the scheme’s trustees. The statement will have to set out details of the main terms of the transaction, any adverse effects on the scheme or employer and the proposed mitigation for any adverse effects.

Notice with an accompanying statement will also have to be given to TPR if there is a change to the proposed main terms of the transaction or the mitigation. Notice will also be required if the transaction does not proceed.

The consultation suggests that the notifiable event – triggered by a decision in principle – comes first and that the notice and accompanying statement must only be supplied to TPR once there is certainty that the transaction will proceed and after its effects on the scheme have been considered.  The draft regulations define a “decision in principle” as a “decision prior to any negotiations or agreements being entered into with another party”.

This means that TPR may not be much involved until it receives the notice and accompanying statement.  Until then, TPR will not have sufficient information regarding the terms of the transaction and any mitigation measures. TPR is not obliged to respond to the notice and accompanying statement.  While TPR is likely to intervene if they aren’t satisfied with the proposed mitigation, the timing of any intervention may be uncertain.

Complying with the new requirements will not be a substitute for a clearance application.  It will give TPR information to consider whether there are grounds for exercising its powers. TPR may intervene where it believes the scheme’s interests have not been properly considered.

The proposed regulations mean that TPR will be notified earlier about a wider range of transactions, and that it will receive more information. TPR will have to balance effective enforcement against unduly disrupting legitimate transactional activity. Much will depend on how pragmatic an approach TPR takes to implementing the new regime.

Read Max’s article in People Management.

The views in this article are intended for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. Arc Pensions Law and the author(s) are not responsible for any direct or indirect result arising from any reliance placed on content, including any loss, and exclude liability to the full extent. Always seek appropriate legal advice from a suitably qualified lawyer before taking, or avoiding taking, any action. If you have any questions on the points raised in the above, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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