Published today, the judgment follows a two-week hearing in January of the substantive issues in the case – the first anti-avoidance case by TPR to be heard in full by the tribunal.
The court found that TPR was right to pursue the use of its Financial Support Direction (FSD) power against ITV to require it to provide support for the Box Clever scheme, which has 2,800 members and a deficit of around £115 million.
Box Clever was formed in 2000 as a joint venture between the TV rental businesses of Granada (now ITV) and Thorn (now Carmelite). Respective employees were transferred to the new company and enrolled in the Box Clever pension scheme.
TPR opened an anti-avoidance investigation following the collapse of Box Clever. Prior to the collapse, ITV extracted significant value from the joint venture.
The tribunal ruled that it is reasonable for ITV to provide financial support for the scheme in the circumstances of this case.
The judges held that:“By their choice of structure for the Joint Venture, the Shareholders extracted considerable cash from the business with no risk of recourse to their assets. They retained an ongoing interest in the merged business with the possibility of further value being generated if the business was successful, but without having to bear any responsibility if the business, whose strategy they continued to determine, subsequently failed.”
ITV has 14 days to seek permission to appeal the tribunal’s decision. If there is no appeal, TPR’s Determinations Panel will issue Financial Support Directions (FSD) to ITV.
The tribunal’s judgment also confirmed that the regulator is entitled to take into account events which occurred prior to the Pensions Act 2004 coming into force.
TPR director of case management Mike Birch said: “We are very pleased with this ruling which sends a clear message to companies linked with defined benefit pension schemes that we will not hesitate to use our anti-avoidance powers where we believe it is reasonable for them to provide financial support. We will pursue these cases for as long as necessary to protect pension savers and the Pension Protection Fund.
“This has been a long and complex case, where the targets have raised numerous legal challenges causing significant delays in an outcome being reached. We now hope that ITV will accept the Upper Tribunal’s findings and seek to work with TPR to put in place appropriate financial support for the scheme and deliver a good outcome for members.”