Pensions

At Wilberforce Chambers, we are leading the way in the field of occupational pensions. We are market leaders with pre-eminent practitioners who specialise in all aspects of pensions law and pensions litigation.  Over the past thirty years, our members have appeared in almost all the leading cases in this area. As a result, we can offer a wealth of resources and experience, with experts at all levels of seniority. This expertise has been widely acknowledged; Wilberforce Chambers is consistently singled out as the market leader by the premier independent researchers at Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500.

As well as top-quality advice and first-class innovative thinking, clients can expect Wilberforce’s down-to-earth, straightforward and fantastically user-friendly service. We pride ourselves on a practical approach to the needs of employers and trustees, who want commercially realistic and cost effective solutions.  We deal with the largest pension litigation worth billions of pounds down to individual disputes and complaints before the Pensions Ombudsman.  Our members combine in-depth knowledge of trusts law and technical pensions legislation with expertise in the related fields of regulatory, financial services, insolvency, tax, negligence, employment, equality, European and public law that affect pensions.

Every year, Wilberforce hosts the Edward Nugee Memorial Lectures, a series of talks by pension law practitioners on current topics of particular interest.
All of our previous papers can be found here, a year after their initial publication.
In 2020 and 2021, our lectures were delivered as webinars and can be viewed on our YouTube channel here.

We advise on cutting-edge issues and litigation affecting pension schemes and their sponsoring employers, as well as emerging issues in the field of personal pensions. Recent examples include:

  • Handling Pensions Regulator issues, from FSDs through to removal of trustees
  • Advising on GMP equalisation and other equality issues
  • Dealing with switches from RPI pension increases through advice and litigation
  • Advising on, challenging or defending the validity of decisions by trustees and employers
  • Handling pensions liberation, pensions fraud and breach of trust cases
  • Dealing with mistakes in pension scheme documentation
  • Responding to judicial review of decisions by public bodies that affect pension schemes
  • Dealing with claims in relation to mismanagement of personal pension schemes
  • Structuring transactions to manage the impact of s.75 debts and addressing s.75 issues
  • Advising on strategies to enable companies that can’t meet their scheme liabilities to escape insolvency
  • Advising on scheme closure, restructuring and liability management exercises
  • Helping to structure corporate transactions and dealing with TUPE issues
  • Assistance with applying the statutory funding regime

We get involved in disputes in a range of arenas, from the High Court and appellate Courts (including in Europe) through to the Pensions Regulator Determinations Panel and Upper Tribunal and the Pensions Ombudsman, and we deal with any related professional negligence issues.

Rankings and recognition

Wilberforce is ranked as a tier 1 set in the pensions categories of both Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500.

Chambers & Partners 2024: Wilberforce Chambers is a distinguished set, with a market-leading group of both silks and juniors capable of handling the full spectrum of pensions work. Members are thoroughly experienced in handling large-scale, high-profile cases at the forefront of the pensions industry. Wilberforce’s barristers are equipped for advice and advocacy in relation to a host of regulatory matters and act for employers, trustees and the Pensions Regulator. The set is able to act in complex cases with elements of employment, trusts and tax law. In the past year, members of the set have been acting for the trustees of the Railways Pension Scheme in a case concerning the interaction of the scheme’s Protection Order and Section Rules. Wilberforce Chambers has also been representing Trustees of Newell Ltd in a Part 8 claim raising a number of issues arising from the conversion of DB pension rights into DC benefits.

The Legal 500 2024: Wilberforce Chambers is commended by clients for its ‘unrivalled strength in depth‘ in pensions, and in particular for the set’s expertise on ‘the most complex and challenging‘ cases. In the case of Railways Pension Scheme Trustee Ltd v Atos, a matter concerning the correct calculation of how much members should pay into “shared cost” defined benefit schemes, Brian Green KC and Edward Sawyer acted on behalf of the trustees. Paul Newman KC  is representing Newell Rubbermaid in a dispute over its conversion of defined benefit rights into define contribution scheme, with issues as to if the conversion is discriminatory on the grounds of sex.

Publications

Among our members, we count esteemed authors and editors of leading pensions law textbooks:

Notable cases

Newell Trustees Ltd v Newell Rubbermaid UK Services Ltd [2024]

The High Court upheld the validity of the conversion of certain scheme members’ final salary benefits to money purchase benefits following their transfer to a newly-created money purchase section of the scheme, subject to the imposition of a final salary underpin. The judgment contains an analysis of a number of important pensions law topics, including the construction of interim deeds, the validity of extrinsic contracts, the construction of Courage provisos and how to calculate final salary underpins. The judgment also considered, and rejected, a claim that the method by which members were selected for the transfer and conversion process constituted unlawful age discrimination.

Read the full judgment

Avon Cosmetics v Dalriada Trustees and ors [2024]

This case is the latest word from the High Court on the conditions required for saving a pension scheme amendment that is partially invalid due to failing to comply with the scheme’s amendment power. It confirms the requirement to consider whether the parties to the amendment would have entered into it had they known of the true scope of the amendment power, but emphasises that that involves an objective rather than a subjective investigation.

Read the full judgment

British Broadcasting Corporation v BBC Pension Trust Ltd [2023]

The Court considered the scope of a fetter on the scheme amendment power in the BBC pension scheme and found that it prevented the power from being used to change future service benefits and/or member contributions for Active Members unless certain conditions were satisfied. However, the Court accepted the BBC’s submission that if the specified conditions were satisfied, then the use of the scheme amendment power in that way would not involve a breach of the proper purpose doctrine.

Read the full judgment

Virgin Media Limited v NTL Pensions Trustees II Ltd & ors [2023]

An important judgment on the operation of s.37 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993 (the 1993 Act) and Regulation 42 of the Occupational Pension Schemes (Contracting-out) Regulations 1996 (SI 1996/1172) (the Regulations), and whether a scheme needs written actuarial confirmation that it continues to satisfy the statutory standards for contracting-out in order for a scheme amendment to a contracted-out scheme to be valid.

Read the full judgment

Railways Pension Trustee v Atos [2022]

The case is about a section of the Railways Pension Scheme, an occupational pension scheme established under a statutory instrument, providing benefits on a Defined Benefit “shared cost” basis.  The judgment of the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Julian Flaux, resolved questions about how the section’s deficit contribution rule operates.  The judgment covers a number of topics of interest to pensions practitioners, including the scope of an actuarial discretion to set deficit contributions, the nature of a power to reduce future benefit accrual, the proper approach to interpretation of a statutory pension scheme, and the effect on scheme funding of a section being unsegregated as between different classes of members.

Read the full judgment

In the matter of the Mitchells & Butlers Pension Plan [2021]

A major rectification claim being brought by a Trustee against the Employer on behalf of members. A three-week trial about the rate of pension increases for thousands of members.

Read the full judgment

Britvic PLC v Britvic Pensions [2021]

A leading Court of Appeal case on the proper approach to interpreting pension scheme documents, particularly when dealing with pension increase rules.

Read the full judgment

Re Axminster Carpets Group Retirement Benefits Plan [2021]

Raises far-reaching issues of pensions law and limitation law in context of £3m-£10m of unpaid pension benefits. Two-week High Court trial in March 2021, of which the 88-page judgment will affect all members of trust based schemes owed arrears.

Read the full judgment

Safeway v Newton [2020]

The Court of Appeal confirmed unanimously that the introduction of s.62 of the Pensions Act 1995 was a domestic law measure that closed the Barber window with effect from 1 January 1996.

Read the full judgment

Univar UK Ltd v Smith [2020]

The first pension rectification claim decided after a full trial since the landmark decision of FSHC Group Holdings Ltd v GLAS Trust Corp Ltd.

Read the full judgment

British Telecommunications pension scheme [2018]

Two recent cases: a Court of Appeal decision on the continued appropriateness of using RPI to increase pensions, and judicial review of the Treasury’s decision to extend full indexation to public service pension scheme members.

Read the full judgmen

 

Lloyds Bank Pension Schemes [2018]

A landmark case confirming that there is an obligation to equalise benefits to take account of unequal Guaranteed Minimum Pensions. One of The Lawyer’s ‘Top 20 Cases of 2018’.

Read the full judgment

Buckinghamshire v Barnardo’s [2018]

A ruling from the Supreme Court on the proper approach to interpreting pension scheme documents and switching from RPI pension increases.

Read the full judgment

 

BHS Pension Schemes [2017]

The well publicised case of the Pensions Regulator’s action in relation to the collapse of the BHS business and the related £400m pensions shortfall.

British Airways

Major litigation involving the validity of the decision by trustees to award above-inflation pension increases.

Read the full judgment

Box Clever

Concerning the limits of the Pension Regulator’s FSD regime and the first FSD case to be determined by the courts.

Read the full judgment

IBM

Concerning whether the employer’s duty of good faith had been breached by the closure of a pension scheme and remedies for the breach.

Merchant Navy Ratings Pension Fund

Concerning the regard that a trustee should have for the interests of employers in exercising its powers under a pension scheme.

Read the full judgment

Insights View all thought leadership

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    Articles

    McCloud Costs Directions: BMA v HM Treasury

    Edward Sawyer has written an article in which he discusses the Court of Appeal’s decision in BMA v HM Treasury, which upheld the validity of directions made by the Treasury to charge members rather than taxpayers with the costs of... Read more

    By Edward Sawyer
    Thursday 16 May 2024

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    Articles

    Lessons from the PO on recoupment and overpayments

    Ram Lakshman has written an article in which he considers the important Pensions Ombudsman determination relating to the BIC UK Pension Scheme, concerning the recoupment of overpaid benefits from future pension instalments. The article was first posted on Paul Newman KC‘s... Read more

    By Ram Lakshman
    Thursday 2 May 2024

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    Articles

    The pro-rating of pensions increases

    Paul Newman KC has written an article in which he considers whether the pro-rating of annual non-statutory increases to pensions in payment for only part of a year can be read into a scheme that makes no express provision for... Read more

    By Paul Newman KC
    Thursday 25 April 2024

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    Articles

    Pension crimes, fines and insolvency practitioners

    David Pollard has written an article about the relevance of the recent Supreme Court decision in R (Palmer) – in which it was held that an administrator was not in the class of persons liable to prosecution under the Trade... Read more

    By David Pollard
    Thursday 18 April 2024

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Upcoming events View all events

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    Events / Webinars

    Wilberforce Nugee Memorial Pensions Conference & Dinner 2024

    Wednesday 19th June 2024 | 12.15pm - 5.40pm, followed by drinks and dinner by Nobu
    Nobu Shoreditch, London

    £140 - £190 + VAT | 3.5 CPD

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Past events View all past events

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    External Conferences

    19th Biennial IPEBLA Conference

    Monday 27th May 2024
    Hilton Milan, Milan

    Speakers:
    David Pollard

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    External Conferences

    APL Seminar: Forfeiture – problems and solutions

    Thursday 29th February 2024
    Brewers' Hall, London

    Speakers:
    Thomas Seymour

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    External Conferences

    Pensions Law and Practice 2023: Shaping New Developments into Solution-Focused Answers for Clients

    Thursday 23rd November 2023 | 9.30am - 4.00pm
    The Caledonian Club, London

    £299 + VAT | 5.0 CPD

    Speakers:
    Jennifer Seaman

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    Events / Webinars

    Nugee Memorial Pensions Conference & Dinner 2023

    Wednesday 21st June 2023 | 12.30pm - 5.55pm, followed by drinks and dinner by Nobu
    Nobu Shoreditch Hotel & Restaurant

    £175 for conference & dinner / £125 for conference only | 3.5 CPD

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