UK - The Department for Work and Pensions is considering options to relax rules which force firms winding up a pension scheme as part of a corporate restructure or demerger to fully cover liabilities.
It said the present regulations trigger a debt for employers where a company ceased to have employees actively participating in a DB scheme.
The DWP said, where there was group reconstruction of employers in a multi employer scheme, it was considering whether the debt should not be triggered where the original "covenant" or commitment to the pension scheme was strong, and if, following the reconstruction, the remaining employers' covenant remains strong.
Pensions reform minister Rosie Winterton said the consultation comes in order to better balance the needs for pension security and those of employers.
She said: "Where government can help ease the burden on employers who run pension schemes at this time we should, but not at the expense of protecting people's pensions.
"We have now commenced a four week informal consultation on the section 75 employer debt provisions. Section 75 is where a debt is triggered when companies with final salary schemes undertake a corporate restructure.
"We are seeking views on the possible options for not triggering a debt where the employer remains committed to the pension scheme."
She added: "This is a difficult area, and it may not be easy to find a way to address the issues without creating loopholes.
"But I want to work with industry in this difficult time to provide what practical help we can that will enable them to continue operating their DB schemes for their employees."
She added: "I am sure that together, we can secure a confident and long term future for the UK pensions industry."
The DWP will consider whether to hold a full public consultation early next year with a view to introducing any changes in the second half of next year.
The section 75 rules were introduced in 2004 and closed a loophole whereby employers could walk away from pension liabilities even though they remained solvent.
They were prompted by the case of Maersk, the Danish shipping line, which tried to walk away from of the pension liabilities of its UK subsidiary even though it remained solvent.
This is the latest in a line of informal consultations designed to help employers struggling with defined benefit provision.
In September, the DWP circulated a discussion paper outlining options to relax the rules on returning scheme surpluses to employers.
The paper - Payments to the employer (the "surplus" rules) - outlining seven options for consideration to a limited group of stakeholders.
The paper asked for views on whether the buyout threshold - the funding level schemes need before surpluses can be returned - should be lowered.
The DWP also asked if it should introduce legislation to allow trustees to consider a payment to the employer even if the rules of the scheme do not allow them.
In addition to this, it was considering whether to introduce a requirement to share payments between employers and scheme members; and whether market solutions - such as contingent assets and escrow accounts - were capable of satisfying concerns about operation of the current rules.
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