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Employers given more time to plug deficits

The Pensions Regulator has thrown companies a lifeline in their bid to fill mounting pension deficits, as the collective deficit for final salary pension schemes in the private sector hits £280bn.

From now on companies can agree a deficit plan that lasts longer than 10 years, without triggering a probe by the regulator.

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report revealed that pension firms are now taking an average of 11 years to repay deficits, an increase of three years compared to the average repayment period recorded in 2011.

Shockingly 91% of the 98 defined pension schemes surveyed by PwC argued that they had made the slide into deficit.

The regulator's chairman, Michael O'Higgins, argued that the changes were designed to give schemes “extra breathing space”, after factors including depressed gilt yields and the faltering state of the economy, were said to have pushed more schemes into deficit.

However, Mr Higgins said the scheme was aimed at a specific “minority”.

“We are not saying that our expectation is now for recovery plans to increase across the board,” he said.

“We still expect the pension scheme to be treated fairly in the context of other demands upon the employer for cash, and for trustees to assess risks in the round.”

The regulator highlighted that deficit recovery payments made by firms in the FTSE 350 are currently worth less than 20% of the payments made in dividends to shareholders, which contrasts with the picture of poverty painted by some business organisations.

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