We are aware of the wide-ranging financial, legal and practical challenges being faced by sponsors and trustees of defined benefit pension schemes as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the global response to this. To help sponsors and trustees address these challenges we have included a checklist of immediate issues to be addressed.
Some of these (such as business continuity plans) will also be relevant for trustees of defined contribution schemes.
- Address risks to business – Clearly, every company needs to assess the immediate and potential longer term impact of COVID-19 and the actions being taken in response to this on their business. They also need to take steps to mitigate these risks, including by ensuring that suitable business continuity arrangements are in place.
- Payment holidays – Where companies are experiencing cash flow problems or other financial difficulties they may consider it necessary to approach lenders, landlords, creditors and their pension scheme’s trustees for payment/contribution holidays. We recommend that you seek legal advice before you make any such approaches (as doing so may affect your existing finance and other contractual arrangements) and we are ready to assist with this.
- Restructuring and insolvency – In the worst case scenario some businesses may be forced into administration or insolvency as a result of the current crisis. We are working closely with our restructuring and insolvency colleagues to help businesses in this position.
- Employment issues – There will be a wide range of employment related issues that employers need to consider in response to COVID-19, including health and safety matters, working arrangements and issues related to the recruitment and retention of staff. Our employment colleagues are ready to help businesses with any of these issues.
- Ensure appropriate business continuity plans are in place – This includes detailing actions to be taken to maintain the day-to-day running of their pension scheme, considering how to mitigate the loss of resources due to unavailable staff or increase in workloads, including which scheme activities to prioritise, and engaging with administrators and other service providers to understand how they are responding and any pressures and risks that could impact the scheme and its members. In particular, trustees should ensure that pensions and other payments due to members will continue to be made.
- Assess impact on the sponsor covenant – The economic impact of COVID-19 and the global response could mean that some businesses (even previously viable businesses) could face unforeseen financial difficulties and the threat of administration and/to insolvency. Trustees should engage with their scheme’s sponsor immediately to understand the impact of COVID-19 and the global response on the business and employer covenant and what steps are being taken to mitigate this. Trustees will need to consider what, if any, action they may need to take in response to this.
- Investment risks – Trustees should take advice on the risks to the scheme’s investment strategy posed by the economic impact of COVID-19 and take steps to mitigate these (where possible).
- PPF levy deadlines – Trustees that still need to submit information in relation to the 2020/21 PPF levy or that are planning to take steps such as certifying or re-certifying contingent assets need to ensure that they are still able to meet the relevant PPF levy deadlines. As things currently stand those deadlines will still apply.
- Emergency trustee meeting – It is crucial that trustees are taking proactive steps to address these issues and any other risks posed to their scheme by COVID-19. Therefore, if they haven’t already done so, trustees should consider the need to call an emergency trustee meeting to assess these risks and, where necessary, take immediate steps to mitigate them.
We’re here to help
Our partners and lawyers stand ready to assist with managing the complex legal and business risks posed by this outbreak. Expertise and insight is available online at our COVID-19 online hub and from your usual contacts at any time.
These are unprecedented times and we value and thank you for your support and we offer you ours.
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): UK government response
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest information and advice
- Public Health England guidance on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, for employers and businesses
- The Pensions Regulator’s statement on COVID-19