Carrying a brolly in the summer: contingency planning for employer insolvency
23rd April, 2019
Tom Lukic, Director of Dalriada Trustees Limited considers the PPF guidance on contingency planning for employer insolvency
While no one ever wants it to happen, dealing with the effects of employer insolvency can be a difficult and very challenging experience for trustees, and even more so for members!
I’ve often heard it said “well that’s what the PPF is there for” which is true, the PPF provides a valuable safety net for many in times of need. However, as trustees we also have a critical role to play in supporting our members should the worst happen.
The good news is, with a few basic steps we can make a massive difference to the member experience when faced with an employer insolvency – a time when it really does matter.
The latest PPF guidance sets out a number of steps to help trustees manage the risks of an employer insolvency event. What does/should such contingency planning entail?
“It won’t happen to me, I have a strong employer covenant”
For those who enjoy a strong covenant, call it good scheme governance having a complete set of all scheme governing documents summarised, available and easily accessible.
“OK, we’re not strong but we’re not weak either. Like most schemes we’re in the middle”
In addition to the above, trustees need to understand the scheme’s dependency on the employer for the effective operation of the scheme. Who runs the payroll? If it is the employer, is there an agreement to document this? Is the scheme bank account with the same bank as the employer? Where is our data held? The scheme administrator should be able to answer all these questions.
Having a clear understanding of the current position will allow trustees to address the key risk areas should things change. For more complex schemes with numerous employers over the years, as well as the governing documents it is important to understand how all employers joined/exited the scheme.
“Even if we have a weak employer covenant, what can we do?”
With an increasing risk or threat of an employer insolvency event, trustees should have a Contingency Plan in place to deal with such a scenario. The best Contingency Plan is the one you lock away and never have to use, but the important step is to have thought through the potential issues and have such a plan in place.
With the scheme governing documents and detailed employer history to hand, early engagement with the PPF can help speed up the PPF validation process post insolvency. The sooner the PPF validates the scheme, the sooner you can confirm to members they are eligible for PPF support and then write to them with more details.
Any Contingency Planning should include a member communication strategy that covers WHEN, WHAT and HOW. This will vary by scheme, but all should deal with the immediate post insolvency queries, updates post PPF validation and the issue of formal member letters. These should be timely, clear, understandable and kept up to date with consistent messaging delivered through the scheme administrators and trustees, using electronic communication and social media as appropriate. Providing a Q&A sheet to deal with the most likely questions (will I be paid my pension next month?/ what is PPF assessment?/ can I retire/transfer as normal?) can help provide prompt and immediate feedback on points of concern for members.
From an operational perspective, the priority is to ensure the scheme can continue running the pensioner payroll, independent of the employer and that scheme data (both hard copy and electronic) is secure and accessible. Pensions will need to be cut back to PPF levels. Existing pensioners below Normal Retirement Age will be the first group impacted so it is important to know who this group are and have a plan to communicate with them quickly.
The administration of a scheme in PPF Assessment is different to ongoing scheme administration. The PPF will want to ensure a firm from their panel is appointed to the scheme. Early engagement with the PPF is helpful to plan and prepare for an orderly transition where required.
The PPF guidance paper provides more detail on the above and other important areas for trustees to consider, encouraging early engagement with them to facilitate improved member outcomes.
The PPF plays a valuable and hugely important role in our DB system, providing a safety net for many members’ pension provision where the employer or scheme is simply unable to do so.
Trustees cannot change the PPF compensation available to our members – but we CAN play our part to help minimise disruption whilst keeping everyone informed throughout what is often a challenging and stressful period for many members.