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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006, 15:46 GMT
Rescue fund helps 43,000 pensions
Lawrence Churchill, chairman of the PPF
Lawrence Churchill, chairman of the PPF, has had a busy first year
The Pension Protection Fund has said it has rescued the pensions of 43,000 people since it began in April 2005.

The fund's first annual report reveals that 98 schemes applied to be rescued in its first year of operation, with a collective deficit of 485m.

Rover, Allders and T&N have been among the firms which have gone bust, leaving their pension schemes with deficits.

The PPF is designed to pay 100% of existing pensions and 90% of prospective pensions.

"There is only really one key figure in our accounts," said Lawrence Churchill, the chairman of the PPF.

"That is that there are 43,000 pension scheme members, currently within our assessment period, benefiting from the security in retirement that the PPF was set up to deliver."

Since April this year, more schemes have applied to be rescued and the total now stands at 123.

As a result, the PPF expects that by the end of the current financial year the number of pension scheme members under its umbrella will have risen to 100,000.

Levy shortfall

To build up its own investment fund to make good the deficits it takes on, the PPF levies a charge on all solvent private sector final salary schemes.

If there is a shortfall during times of few corporate insolvencies, the levy must be unsustainably low
Tim Keogh, Mercers

In 2005/06 the PPF's fund ended the year with a deficit of 343m, which means that only 86% of its liabilities were covered by its assets.

This financial year it expects to bring in a further 324m, considerably less than its initial estimate of 575m.

That is partly due to solvent employers taking measures to bolster their schemes, thus reducing the levy they are liable to pay.

The PPF has also taken a decision to impose only half of the true levy which it thinks is appropriate, in order to avoid imposing too large a burden on solvent schemes.

But with another shortfall looming this financial year, the PPF's strategy was criticised by Tim Keogh of the actuarial firm Mercers.

"Claims for 2005/6 were 485m, of which only a quarter (138m) was covered by levies, and there is little sign of lower claims for 2006/7," he said.

"There's a big undershoot here that can't go uncorrected. If there is a shortfall during times of few corporate insolvencies, the levy must be unsustainably low," he warned.

How it works

When a company becomes insolvent, and its pension scheme has a deficit, the scheme trustees apply to the PPF to be bailed out.

The PPF then spends a year assessing the scheme to see if it qualifies for a rescue.

This is known as being in the "holding pen".

The PPF tries to establish if the scheme can be rescued by other means, for instance by being taken on by any buyer of the insolvent employer.

It also works out if the assets in the scheme are large enough on their own to pay out the PPF's level of benefits.

If the answer to both questions is no, then the scheme and its assets are absorbed by the PPF and it takes on responsibility for paying the pensions.

The PPF says it expects to absorb its first schemes by the end of 2006.

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