The Pensions Regulator insists the “door remains open” to strike a deal with former BHS owner Sir Philip Green to plug the retailer’s pension deficit.
The watchdog’s chief executive Lesley Titcomb told the Work and Pensions Committee earlier today that she was hopeful a settlement could be reached to help plug the failed department store chain’s £571m pensions black hole.
Titcomb said: “We are pursuing the best possible outcome we can secure for them [members] relentlessly.”
Her comments came a day after MP Frank Field, chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, asked Titcomb whether the deficit could be plugged by “acquiring assets” from Green instead, including his £100m yacht.
Seizing assets option
Titcomb said it would be up to the courts to decide whether that was a feasible course of action, but admitted that it could seize assets if Green did not pay up when a legal demand is issued.
She added: “If we are talking about a contribution notice, that creates a normal legally enforceable debt to the scheme and it would then be the scheme trustees or the PPF [the Pension Protection Fund] who, with our full support in any way, shape or form we could offer, would seek to recover that debt through the courts.
“The courts would determine how that would be achieved.”
BHS tumbled into administration in April, just over a year after Green sold the chain for a nominal £1 to Retail Acquisitions, with the loss of 11,000 jobs.
Earlier this month, the chairman of the Business Select Committee Iain Wright told the BBC that the firm’s pension deficit had likely ballooned “into something like £600m or £700m” since it appointed administrators.
Agreement still not reached
During a parliamentary inquiry in June, Green vowed that he would “find a solution” to the black hole in the collapsed retailer’s pension scheme and said he was working with advisers from Deloitte to “sort this in the correct way.”
In September, Green insisted that he was working “daily” in an attempt to plug the deficit and apologised for what he called a “sorry affair,” but an agreement is yet to be reached.
The Pensions Regulator is thought to be seeking at least £300m from the Arcadia tycoon.
Separately, BHS’s joint administrators Duff & Phelps have protested against a move that would force them to start liquidating the chain within days.
A progress report produced by Duff & Phelps claimed that transferring SHB Realisations Limited – previously known as BHS Limited – into liquidation would reduce overall returns to creditors.
The Pension Protection Fund, BHS’s biggest creditor, had asked for liquidation to begin on November 24.
The document revealed that unsecured creditors could receive a maximum of just 8p in the pound.
Duff & Phelps added that demand for BHS stores had “reduced substantially” following a host of incidents including the Brexit vote.