Mark Boyle responds to comments made by MP Frank Field about the regulator's investigation into the collapse of British Home Stores.
- The regulator has said it will have made significant progress into its investigation into the collapse of BHS by the end of the year.
- MP Frank Field has said he is disappointed with the rate of progress of the investigation.
- Over 70,000 documents will need to be examined.
The recent BHS report demonstrated what a powerful force Parliamentary committees can be when it comes to highlighting important issues of public interest and applying pressure through the media.
Although the report focuses on the roles of the key players and their advisers in the lead-up to the sale and eventual insolvency of BHS, the report also asks questions of The Pensions Regulator (TPR) and the wider regulatory framework for defined benefit pensions.
As a regulator, the best way for us to answer those questions is to get on with the job in hand and our focus remains firmly on achieving the best possible outcome for members of the BHS scheme and for Pension Protection Fund levy payers.
This is our priority and it is vital that we do not prejudice our case by jumping to hasty conclusions. In May, our chief executive Lesley Titcomb indicated we will have made significant progress in our anti-avoidance investigation into BHS by the end of this year. We remain well on course to achieve that.
These types of investigations are complex and they do take time. This is common among regulators when conducting enforcement investigations.
Our expert case teams have a great deal of information to examine - well over 70,000 documents - and it is vital we are thorough in order to maximise our chance of success if we do decide to use our powers.
We need to conduct this investigation to see if our anti-avoidance powers can be used to recover money and/or secure support for the BHS pension scheme and its 20,000 members.
Generally speaking, an indication that we may use these powers is often enough to encourage parties to reach a resolution, rather than risk formal enforcement proceedings.
But we also know from previous cases that parties sometimes use their right of appeal to mount a legal challenge to our enforcement action. As our cases may be tested in a court of law, they must be built on robust evidence.
We need to follow all regulatory procedures to meet the proper standard of evidence that is, quite rightly, expected of us in such cases. I am confident that we are allocating the appropriate resources to our BHS case work, and we will use, as we have before, external support if required.
More broadly we look forward to providing evidence and engaging fully with the next stage of the Work & Pensions Committee's enquiries into defined benefit pensions in the autumn. We have already written to the committee setting out our preliminary views on some aspects of the regulatory framework that might be improved.
TPR's mission is to ensure that pension schemes are adequately funded and run in the best interests of retirement savers and to ensure that employers meet their obligations by making and maintaining appropriate contributions.
A strong, visible pensions regulator helps to build confidence in pensions and saving. But while we are relentless in our pursuit of the best outcome possible for retirement savers, we also need to behave fairly and reasonably, adhering to due process.
Prevention is always better than cure and our general approach remains to prevent problems developing in the first place by being clear about our expectations in our communications with trustees, administrators, employers and other parties. Usually we succeed in achieving the desired outcome by educating and engaging with our audiences.
But we will not hesitate to enforce by invoking our regulatory powers where it is the right thing to do.
Mark Boyle is chair of The Pensions Regulator
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