Soon-to-be former “Sir” Philip Green feeling the heat over BHS pensions

The UK watchdog is beginning legal proceedings against the retail tycoon...

Soon-to-be former “Sir” Philip Green feeling the heat over BHS pensions

Not only does he look set to be stripped of his knighthood, but now billionaire Topshop owner Philip Green will be seeing the UK’s Pensions Regulator in court as it seeks to ensure he pays for the collapse of his BHS department store chain and the resulting fallout.

The watchdog has confirmed that it is taking action to seek redress on behalf of 20,000 BHS pension scheme members, confirming a story first reported by Sky News.

The regulator said it had yet to receive a "credible and comprehensive" offer to resolve their situations.

It has sent warning notices to Green and his family holding company Taveta as well as Dominic Chappell and Retail Acquisitions.

Chappell is the former bankrupt whose Retail Acquisitions vehicle bought BHS last year from Green for £1.

Notices served by the regulator set out why it believes they "should be liable to support the BHS pension schemes, following the sale of the business in March 2015 and its subsequent insolvency".

BHS collapsed this year with the loss of 11,000 jobs and leaving a £571m pensions deficit, prompting a public outcry and an overwhelming vote by British MPs to strip Sir Philip of his knighthood last month.

The UK Pensions Regulator's chief executive Lesley Titcomb said: 

"Our decision to launch enforcement action is an important milestone in our work to attain redress for the thousands of members of BHS schemes who have been placed in this position through no fault of their own.

"Issuing warning notices at this time reflects the outcome of our investigations and that we are yet to receive a sufficiently credible and comprehensive offer in respect of the BHS schemes.

"We continue to pursue the best deal for members of the BHS pension schemes. If parties wish to approach us with settlement offers, that course remains open to them."

The regulator said the warning notices, each running to more than 300 pages, set out the evidence to support the use of its powers which can include demanding payment to the pension scheme or more flexible proposals.

Such powers have been used rarely, and never on the scale of that which is being applied to Green, whose high street empire includes brands such as Top Shop and Dorothy Perkins.

Those receiving the notices now have a set time to respond. Once responses have been considered, the case can be passed on to a determinations panel to decide on the use of the regulator's powers.

Green has responded: 

"I have read the statement from the Pensions Regulator this evening and noted its contents.

"I have provided the Regulator with what I believe to be a credible and substantial proposal, with evidence and bank confirmation of cash availability, which would prevent the scheme from entering the Pension Protection Fund.

"This is in order to achieve a better outcome for the BHS pensioners.
"I have also spoken to the chairman of the trustees who is supportive of the proposal on the basis that it provides members with better benefits than they would receive from the PPF.

"I believe the above statement confirms the statement of intent that I made in regard to the BHS pensioners."

The latest developments in the negotiations over BHS's pension deficit come more than four months after Green told MPs on two select committees that he would "sort" the issue.

He repeated that pledge in several letters to MPs and in a rare media interview last month.

Additional reporting by IRN