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Information which covered whether TPR has delivered on the ministerial promise

FOI reference - FOI-4376
Date - 31 January 2020

Request

You have requested the following information in regard to the Littlewoods Pension Scheme:

My request is for information which covered whether the regulator has delivered on the ministerial promise to check:

  1. The independence of the trustees
  2. Whether the performance of the company was jeopardising the ability to pay for any fund shortfall as trading has continued to weaken in the wake of the PPI losses.
  3. Did the last triennial valuation of the scheme (in December 2018) satisfy the regulator that it was fully funded?
  4. Has the recovery plan put in place which is due to expire in 2021 been adhered to?

Response

In your request you also reference 'the Hansard debate' and you mention a ministerial promise to check on the independence of the trustees. Having reviewed this debate I can see that Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con) raises questions around the security of the scheme and the independence of the trustees, Steve Webb (Minister for Pensions) advises that: 'We have looked at the composition of the trustees of these pension schemes and, on the face of it, there is nothing irregular or out of line with what they are legally required to do. However, if the hon. Lady has evidence to the contrary, I encourage her to share'. It is not clear from your request whether you consider this exchange to be the ministerial promise you refer to. Whilst I have responded to your request for information regardless of this context, the response is not intended to support or contradict your assertion of there having been a ministerial promise to check, as it is not clear that such a promise was intended given the Minister’s wording.

Duty to confirm or deny whether we hold the information requested

We can neither confirm nor deny that we hold information falling within the description specified in your request.

The reason that we can neither confirm or deny that we hold the information is because disclosure of the sort of information requested is prohibited under an enactment, detailed below, save in certain circumstances which do not apply here.

As we have been given strong powers to demand documents and other information from trustees, employers and others, those powers are also balanced by restrictions on how we disclose the information provided to us. The type of information you have requested would be ‘restricted information’. Restricted information is defined at section 82(4) of the Pensions Act 2004 (PA04) as:

‘…information obtained by the Regulator in the exercise of its functions which relates to the business or other affairs of any person’.

Under section 82(5) of the PA04 it is a criminal offence to disclose such information except as permitted under that Act.

Whilst the FoIA is based on the presumption of releasing information, section 44(1)(a) of the FoIA provides an absolute exemption to the requirement to disclose any information if its disclosure is prohibited by or under any enactment. In this case, section 82 of the PA04 prohibits disclosure and we are unable to disclose the requested information. This exemption is absolute and does not require a public interest assessment be undertaken.

This should not be taken as any indication of whether or not we hold the information you requested.

Part of your request is for information around the valuation of the scheme and whether the scheme is fully funded. This is a topic that has been widely commented on since the debate and there are a number of resources online which discuss the topic, for example on the Pensions Age website.