Defined Benefit  

Retirees face benefit cuts in major DB shake-up

"Regulatory intervention is often clunky and concentrated at stages when a scheme is in severe distress or has already collapsed," the committee stated.

"The Committee recommends TPR be reformed to a nimbler, more proactive regulator that could intervene sooner when difficulties in a company pension fund become apparent, and before problems begin to compound."

The committee argued that an aggregator fund run by the PPF, meanwhile, would be an "attractive alternative" to the insurance company buy-out market, which it said smaller employers often find "prohibitively expensive or unavailable".

It claimed such a fund would "bring greater stability and certainty to scheme members" and increase the chances that small employers could "continue to thrive, invest and employ".

Among the other proposals was a recommendation that rules over "small lump sum transfers" out of DB schemes be relaxed.

TPR chief executive Lesley Titcomb said the regulator would consider the recommendations "carefully".

“We continue to discuss options with [the Department for Work and Pensions] for the legislative and regulatory framework for workplace pensions, and how this might be improved, ahead of the green paper, which will consider the future of pension funding, the regulatory framework and TPR’s powers," she said.

A DWP spokesperson said the majority of employers were managing their pension schemes "responsibly", but said recent incidents had "raised some important questions". 

"In the coming months we’ll be publishing a green paper on pension funding and as part of this we’ll be looking at powers of The Pensions Regulator,” the spokesperson said.

Christopher Daems, director of Cervello Financial Planning, welcomed the proposal to increase TPR's powers.

"The power to impose more punitive measures to prevent pension failure makes sense and the level proposed should act as a suitable deterrent to ensure that future failures don't occur."

However, Henry Tapper, business development director of First Actuarial and founder of Pensions Playpen, said the report was an "overreaction to an overstated problem".

"The proposed remedies to the 'calamity' of BHS could be more calamitous, allowing indexation to be conditional (retrospectively) and allowing small schemes to fold into a living PPF risks undermining the good work of trustees over the past few years and could lead to a needless dumbing down of benefits," he said.

Tom McPhail, head of retirement policy at Hargreaves Lansdown said the key question for any proposed changes is whether they will be in the best interests of the scheme members.

He said: "Judging by this report, the interests of employers and the pensions industry seem to be winning out over those of their employees and scheme members.

"Pensions are pay, so retrospectively reducing the value of pension benefits is tantamount to refusing to pay an employee after they have done the work for you: the pensions minister should stand firm in defence of employees’ pensions.”