Pensions Regulator  

Rogue trustees ‘should be prepared to go to prison’

Rogue trustees ‘should be prepared to go to prison’

The new chief executive of The Pensions Regulator has warned that trustees should have no doubt that if they "abuse their position they should be prepared to go to prison".

Charles Counsell, who joined the watchdog in April, gave his first speech today at the Pension Benefits UK conference in London.

Mr Counsell explained that TPR was going through significant change in the way it regulates.

By working proactively with more pension schemes through a new range of approaches, TPR is setting out its expectations and taking tough action where necessary, he noted.

He stated the regulator was not "shy to prosecute when people abuse their position and put savers at risk".

He added: "We have used more of our powers, more often and been creative in using the law to protect savers. We’re testing our powers in the courts.

"We’ve prosecuted people for a range of offences such as fraud, making employer related investments, computer misuse, and wilful noncompliance with auto-enrolment."

He gave as examples the case of high street retailer Dunnes Stores in Northern Ireland, were TPR stopped the trustees from running its defined contribution scheme after a series of governance failures.

He also mentioned the case of Roger William Bessent, a Lancashire-based accountant who acted as a trustee and administrator to workplace pension schemes, and was sentenced to more than three years in prison in April.

Mr Counsell also drew up his priorities for his term at the helm of the regulator.

He noted that the watchdog will be more focused on the individual saver, as changes in the pension landscape such as auto-enrolment, pension freedoms or master trust consolidation mean the "burden of responsibility has shifted markedly to the individual".

He said: "People are now, more than ever, being encouraged to engage, plan and understand their pension. This is a huge cultural change. And it’s why we at TPR must increase our focus on savers."

Mr Counsell also noted that he will prioritise the delivery of the TPR Future programme, initiated in 2017, in which the watchdog pledged to be "quicker, clearer, tougher".

He added: "We will intervene before problems arise. We will anticipate, rather than react. We have created a new strategy and risk directorate to help us with this and we’re building a much more sophisticated long-term view of risk."

maria.espadinha@ft.com

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