UK HR ebrief: pension scheme closures and changes — significant High Court decision

The High Court, in IBM UK v Dalgleish and others, found that an employer had breached its implied duty of good faith in the way it went about closing its defined-benefit (DB) schemes to the future accrual of benefits. The case emphasises the need for employers to tread very carefully when planning and implementing changes to DB schemes. This briefing considers its practical implications for employers.

The facts are very complicated and involve more than 5,000 members spread over two schemes and various benefit structures. In summary, IBM decided to make a range of changes to two of its DB schemes between 2009 and 2011. This was known as ‘Project Waltz’ and involved closure to the future accrual of benefits, imposing new early retirement terms and withholding pay rises from DB scheme members who did not agree to break the link between DB pension accrual and final salary.

IBM planned to close to future accrual by using an ‘exclusion power’ in the scheme rules. This said that the principal employer could exclude ‘any specified person or class of persons’ from membership…

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