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Pension schemes are often company-sponsored vehicles. However, because of the trust framework within which many of them operate, in one way or another they are invariably not under the exclusive control of the sponsoring company.
Scheme trustees have their own duties and obligations. It can be extremely useful for companies planning commercial activity to take advice, not only on their own agenda, but also on the responsibilities that the trustees face. There is little sense in the company engaging in commercial commitments, on the assumption that trustees will be able to 'deliver', when in fact the trustees may not be able or willing to do so.
Without careful planning, therefore, trustee responsibilities can get in the way of implementing commercial proposals. This may be the case, for example, with proposals for future accrual under a pension scheme to cease, with a view to the sponsoring employer being sold-on, free of the future service pension costs. Such proposals may, ultimately, turn out to be workable, but typically not unless and until the trustees give their independent consent. They must not give that consent just because 'it serves the company's interests to do so'.
They must decide whether it is in the best interests of the scheme's members to agree (including all the ex-employees who have frozen benefits in the scheme, and those who are currently drawing benefits from the scheme). If the proposals are not in the interests of the members, then the trustees should not agree to them, even if that makes the company's commercial activity less profitable.
Similar problems can arise where a company proposes that its scheme should be 'wound-up'. Can the company force wind-up? Does it have a clear grasp of the funding obligations on wind-up, and the timescales within which the trustees are likely to call in those obligations? It is therefore very important for the company to be on top of the issues that will face the trustees.