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Strength in numbers – The Pensions Regulator presents challenges for the sole trader trustee model

Are you a professional trustee of an occupational pension scheme? If so, you will soon be expected to apply for accreditation and demonstrate that you meet a new set of standards.

The Professional Trustee Standards Working Group recently published details of a proposed accreditation framework for professional trustees. This follows on from a consultation which concluded in March 2018.

The framework is split into three sections:

  • General standards: this covers areas including fitness and propriety, expertise and care, professional development, the role of the professional trustee, behaviours and skills, conflicts of interest, trustee duties delegated to a professional trustee and practices relating to the professional trustee’s own appointment.
  • Standards relating to chairing a trustee board or assisting the chair: this expands on the roles and qualities expected of a professional trustee chair in respect of the different parties involved in the pension scheme and areas of governance.
  • Additional standards for professional trustees who act as a sole trustee: this sets out which professional trustees should not act as sole trustee and what procedures and processes must be in place for professional trustees who are appointed as sole trustee. In particular, the standards do not permit sole traders to act as a sole trustee of a pension scheme. Whilst the standards have no legal status, The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has stressed that it is averse to sole traders acting as sole trustees and TPR will bring pressure to bear on employers who do appoint a sole trader as sole trustee.

Anyone falling within TPR’s description of a professional trustee will be expected to comply with the framework. Broadly speaking, this would be “…any person, … who acts as a trustee of the scheme in the course of the business of being a trustee”. It is worth noting that the standards and accreditation only apply to individuals – they do not apply to corporate trustees and firms. The standards and accreditation do, however, apply to any individual carrying out professional trustee duties on behalf of a corporate trustee or firm, such as a director of a corporate trustee.

The accreditation process is still a work in progress, but is anticipated to begin by mid-2019.

Accreditation

To achieve accredited status, it is expected that applicants must:

  • Comply with a ‘fit and proper’ requirement. This is modelled on the standards for trustees of master trusts – trustees must be able to demonstrate that they meet a standard of honesty, integrity and knowledge appropriate to their role.
  • Provide references from two reputable figures within the industry. This could be an existing accredited professional trustee, a pensions lawyer or a scheme actuary.
  • Have successfully completed the latest TPR Trustee Toolkit.
  • Have passed the Pensions Management Institute (PMI) Level 3 Award in Pension Trusteeship.
  • Complete an online soft skills test (which is currently being developed).

Once accredited status has been achieved, in order to maintain this there is likely to be a requirement to:

  • Complete an annual attestation confirming that the trustee remains ‘fit and proper’, continue to adhere to the “Standards for professional trustees of occupational pension schemes” and has completed any new or updated modules in TPR’s Trustee Toolkit; and
  • Complete 25 hours of relevant continuing professional development (CPD). At least 15 hours of this must be structured CPD (such as a conference, seminar or formal trustee training).

It is proposed that the PMI will manage the accreditation framework subject to consultation with and the oversight of the Association of Professional Pension Trustees. There is a cost associated with achieving and maintaining accreditation however this is currently unknown. It is expected that costs will be confirmed by mid-2019.

© Copyright 2019 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

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