The Pensions Regulator has slapped a £133mn warning notice on broadcaster ITV after it failed to provide adequate support to the Box Clever pension scheme by the regulator’s deadline.
The two parties were locked in a legal dispute lasting eight years following the demise of TV rental business Box Clever. TPR sought to impose a financial support direction on Granada, now ITV, back in 2018, and questions subsequently arose about the role of the Box Clever pension scheme trustee in swelling the scheme’s deficit.
The Upper Court ruled in favour of the regulator at the time but the case continued, morphing into a dispute about the appropriate amount of financial support ITV would provide the scheme, which in 2020 had a deficit of around £115mn. In March that year, TPR gave ITV a six-month deadline to fund the scheme.
TPR was critical of the broadcaster, accusing it at the time of using “every possible legal channel to fight against our actions to safeguard the retirements of thousands of members”.
TPR rejected ITV’s offer
In August 2020, ITV offered to stump up £31mn, though it accepted — in its 2021 annual report — that the regulator may issue a warning notice if it deemed that amount insufficient.
In the event, that was TPR’s determination. ITV’s first-quarter trading update, published on May 11, acknowledged: “We have received a warning notice from TPR in relation to the Box Clever pension scheme for the amount of £133mn.”
ITV said it would continue to engage with the regulator to resolve the matter, but that its view was the same as that set out in its 2021 report, which stated: “Given the significant number of undecided issues as to the quantum and form of financial support, the group will strongly contest any attempt to impose liability in an amount the directors consider unreasonable.
“The directors continue to believe there are many important factors that need to be taken into account in any decision, and therefore there remains a great deal of uncertainty around the quantum and form of financial support to be provided.”
TPR issued the warning notice on May 6.
A TPR spokesperson said: “The deadline we set ITV to provide reasonable financial support for the Box Clever pension scheme in response to the financial support directions issued to them passed on September 17 2020. While they did submit an offer, we rejected it because we did not consider it provided reasonable support to the scheme.
“We have now issued a warning notice seeking contribution notices against ITV and four related entities. These contribution notices would see cash paid into the scheme to pay member benefits.
“We will not be commenting further on the matter at the moment.”
ITV amends deficit reduction plan
ITV’s trading update also confirmed that the broadcaster had revised its deficit reduction contribution plan in agreement with the trustee of the ITV pension scheme.