New pension service provides Aspirin for Yorkshire companies' headache

Pensions legislation legal advice

10.04.2006

Relief for Yorkshire companies worrying about how to cope with an aspect of forthcoming pensions legislation is now on offer from national law firm Irwin Mitchell.

Pensions legislation summary

The practices experts are offering a plain-English summary of scheme deeds and rules to trustees who must show they are fully conversant with these documents to comply with provisions of the 2004 Pensions Act taking effect in April.

Pensions lawyer

Anne Taylor pensions lawyer and national head of the firms pensions team, based at its offices in Queen Street, Leeds, said: "Most trustees are obviously not solicitors, but - according to the letter of the new law - must know as much about some aspects of their schemes, including the deeds and rules, as legal specialists like us, to avoid severe consequences, such as the Pensions Regulator removing them from their positions.

"Our guides will typically cost around £1,500 and will avoid the need for Yorkshire companies to spend thousands of pounds on training courses by providing their trustees with a 25-page, no-nonsense, jargon-free summary of a 70 or 100-page original, telling them all they need to know."

Pensions legislation guide

Mrs Taylor said a typical schemes guide would contain three sections: a rule-by- rule run down of what its deed and rules meant; a section on the major discretions trustees exercised, such as how to distribute funds and administer early retirements; and definitions of the particular terms important to it.

She said: "The second section could be especially vital, as ill-health early retirement is an emotive issue, which can lead to complaints and trouble. The Pensions Ombudsman's latest annual report says its the subject of the greatest number of referrals to him and this area is also the most significant generator of case law in the field.

"Trustees cant just make a decision based on whether they like a person. They have to take into account medical evidence, including asking whether its the right sort and where its come from.

"In addition, some schemes deeds and rules say early retirement is possible if members are unable to fulfil their own roles, for example, while others dictate its only an option if they can't do any job, and its vital trustees know exactly what their own documents state on this issue."

Mrs Taylor said the need for Yorkshire trustees to be fully conversant with their schemes deeds and rules was part of a much wider picture taking effect in April which would mean them having to be quasi-experts, with an in-depth knowledge of numerous matters - including investment, asset allocation and fund management, plus factors underlying them - that would make most predecessors gasp.

She explained: "The problem of the law demanding much wider and deeper trustee understanding has emerged gradually in recent years. Legislation and regulation has been tightened in the wake of issues such as Robert Maxwell pillaging the Mirror Group fund and people who have worked in companies for 30 or 40 years losing pension entitlements because of their firms going bust or schemes making losses on the markets.

"April's changes will take the demands to a new level, however and one effect of them could be Yorkshire companies spending thousands of pounds training trustees in areas such as understanding their deeds and rules.

"In my view, companies in the county who can afford it will also try and bypass the problem by hiring more advisers on relevant subjects, but the new legislation will still mean trustees having to be accomplished enough to ask the right questions of these experts.

"Our service will certainly help them reach the required standard in one of these key respects. We're sure it will prove invaluable to trustees who will shortly be under pressure like never before."

Companies wanting Irwin Mitchell's experts to produce a plain English guide to their own deed and rules or discuss any other aspect of pension law and regulation can contact the team on 0370 1500 100.

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