Sir Philip Green wants the Pensions Regulator to force Dominic Chappell, the former owner of BHS, to put money into the failed retailer’s pension fund as part of any settlement to resolve the £571m deficit in the scheme.
Green has made a payment into the scheme from Chappell or his company Retail Acquisitions a condition of any rescue deal, according to sources close to negotiations.
BHS collapsed into administration in April, leading to the loss of 11,000 jobs and leaving a £571m pension black hole. The demise of the 88-year-old retailer sparked a public and political outcry because Green and Chappell, the former owners, made millions from the business.
Green owned BHS for 15 years until he sold it to Chappell, a former bankrupt, for £1. During his ownership, the Green family and other shareholders collected at least £580m from BHS. Chappell’s company Retail Acquisitions received payments of £17m from BHS despite owning the department store chain for just 13 months until it collapsed.
Green promised to “sort” the problems facing the BHS pension scheme in June when he appeared in front of a parliamentary committee, but no deal has been forthcoming. The Pensions Regulator has started legal proceedings against Green and Chappell in an attempt to force them to fill the deficit. It is understood to be seeking around £350m from Green and as much as £17m from Chappell.
However, a source close to the situation confirmed that negotiations have taken place between Green and the regulator since it initiated legal action in November. Those involved in the talks believe a settlement could be agreed early in the new year, before the regulator proceeds to the next stage.
As part of any deal, it is understood that Green wants the regulator to ensure that Chappell pays into the pension scheme as well. The billionaire tycoon believes he was misled by Chappell about his track record in business and the money that Retail Acquisitions was paid by BHS.
Green declined to comment. Chappell told the Guardian that he fulfilled all his duties as a director of BHS and “at no stage did we trade immorally”. He blamed Green for the collapse of BHS because of his failure to support the pension scheme after he sold the retail chain. Chappell said he had agreed a “deal in principle” with the regulator and the Pension Protection Fund, the government-backed lifeboat scheme, to restructure the pension fund before BHS collapsed. This involved Green pumping in £127m, BHS making annual contributions for the next five years, and the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) taking a 30% stake in the retailer. However, Green did not agree to the proposal, according to Chappell.
The former owner of BHS also criticised the conduct of the Pensions Regulator, saying that the retailer was “screwed” by the investigation into the pension scheme shortly after it was sold by Green. This prevented Retail Acquisitions hiring a top chief executive and affected its finances, Chappell said.
“A big notice to them, why don’t they look themselves in the mirror and look at how they behaved through the whole process?”
A spokesperson for the Pensions Regulator said: “We have issued warning notices setting out evidence for use of our contribution notice power and our financial support direction power, to a number of parties including Sir Philip Green.
“The warning notice is an important milestone in our work to obtain redress for the thousands of members of the BHS schemes who have been placed in this position through no fault of their own.
“Those who have received the warning notices now have the right to make representations to us, which we will consider and respond. At that stage, if we decide to progress the case, it will be heard by our determinations panel, which is independent of the case team and will determine whether to exercise the powers in this case. We cannot give specific timeframes but we would expect a panel hearing during 2017.
“We remain in discussion with Sir Philip’s advisers. Any settlement offer we accept has to be robust enough to stand the test of time and mean that members and the PPF are not left in a worse position further down the road.”
Alan Rubenstein, chief executive of the PPF, added: “The BHS pension schemes remain in the PPF assessment period, and members continue to be protected and paid at PPF levels of compensation.
“This means members who were retired when we started looking at the schemes will continue to receive 100% of what was in payment, while members who retired since then will receive 90% of what they were promised, subject to a cap.
“We are working closely with the BHS pension trustees who continue to administer the schemes. Meanwhile the liquidator is now working to maximise the recovery to the pension schemes.”
This article was written by Graham Ruddick, for theguardian.com on Monday 26th December 2016 15.16 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010