TPR defends its handling of USS concerns

The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has defended how it dealt with whistleblower concerns over the way the Universities Superannuation Scheme's (USS) retirement rates were calculated.

In a letter responding to Work and Pension Select Committee chair Frank Field, TPR CEO Charles Counsell said that they did not write to USS about the claims until 3 April 2019, despite concerns first being raised on 20 March 2018, “to avoid any further delay”.

The whistleblower, Jane Hutton, claimed that the USS impeded her from investigating the scheme’s £7.5bn deficit reported in November 2017, which may have prompted the universities to suggest closing the DB scheme.

Counsell said: “In this case we believed that there was a high probability that the whistleblower would be identified by USS when we raised their concerns, and on this basis on 7 August 2018 we requested permission to reveal their identity.

“This permission was formally given on 31 October 2018. We were unable to contact USS before that date at the risk of the whistleblower being identified.

“Thereafter, although conscious of the need to raise the whistleblower issues with USS, we also had a number of other USS workstreams to work through, some of which directly related to the whistleblower concerns.

“In practice, to avoid further delay and because of the complexity of the various issues that we were looking at, we ultimately decided to separate the whistleblowers concerns from other pieces of information. This was to avoid any further delay and explains why we wrote on 3 April.”

TPR had also been criticised by the USS Joint Expert Panel (JEP) for having, what the panel saw, as a disproportionate influence on the valuation and may have steered the employer in the way it wanted.

Counsell argued that, as the USS is the largest private pension scheme in the UK, it was “entirely appropriate” for the regulator to be as involved as they were.

He also noted that TPR is continuing to work with the JEP and that it has ensured the panel understands “the nature of our involvement and reasons for it”.

He concluded: “It is understandable that members of the USS are keen to secure their pension benefits, I hope that this letter helps you to understand TPR's involvement in this matter.”

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