PensionsAug 18 2017

Regulator's dispute with ITV heads to court

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Regulator's dispute with ITV heads to court
ByMaria Espadinha

The Pensions Regulator will appear before the Upper Tribunal in January 2018 in the anti-avoidance case involving ITV.

ITV has been challenging the regulatory's decision to force it to put together proposals for how it will financially support the Box Clever pension scheme.

Box Clever was a joint venture combining the rental businesses of ITV (known at the time as Granada) and a number of Thorn entities. Its pension scheme has around 2,800 members and a buy0out deficit of more than £90m.

Now the Court of Appeal has rejected ITV's latest legal challenge over the evidence for the hearing, meaning the first substantive anti-avoidance hearing will go before the Upper Tribunal early next year.

Mike Birch, director of case management at TPR, said it is vital for the regulator to be able to introduce new evidence where appropriate when it is pursuing anti-avoidance cases.

He said: “The ruling also brings closer the prospect of greater certainty for members of the Box Clever Group Pension Scheme, which due to legal challenges by ITV has been delayed for six years.

"We have fought at every stage to bring our case for an Financial Support Direction and are pleased the courts have agreed with our position. This sends a clear message that we will not shy away from pursuing regulatory action to protect workplace pensions."

When the joint venture went ahead employees were transferred to the new company and enrolled in the Box Clever pension scheme, which was set up to ensure that those members would continue to receive the same benefits as promised in their former schemes.

Before the collapse TPR said ITV extracted "significant value" from the joint venture.

In 2011 TPR issued determination notices outlining why it was reasonable to issue Financial Support Directives (FSDs) to five companies that formed part of the ITV Group. An FSD requires its target to propose how they will financially support the scheme.

ITV originally went to the Upper Tribunal in January 2012 to challenge TPR’s determination to issue an FSD and began its challenge of the regulator's ability to submit additional evidence in late 2013.

At the end of July, the Court of Appeal refused permission for ITV to appeal against a ruling made in TPR's favour, to allow the introduction of new evidence in its case against the broadcaster.

An ITV spokesman said: "ITV has never participated in the Box Clever scheme and has had no control over the growth of its deficit.  

"ITV believes strongly that there will be cases in which it is appropriate for the regulator to use its powers, but equally strongly that Box Clever is not one of them, and that the case against it is wholly unmeritorious.