The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has today published guidance outlining how it expects employers and trustees to approach upcoming scheme valuations.
For the first time, TPR's latest Annual Funding Statement (AFS) also sets out expectations for investment strategies following feedback from trustees and advisors.
The regulator said a comprehensive approach to integrated risk management (IRM) should allow schemes to ensure they only take appropriate levels of risk with investments.
It also warned trustees to be mindful of the additional deficit that could arise from their chosen investment strategies, and whether their covenant could support it.
The guidelines are particularly relevant to defined benefit schemes conducting valuations with effective dates between 22 September 2018 and 22 September 2019.
TPR's executive director of regulatory policy, analysis and advice, David Fairs, said: "We are setting out what we expect trustees and employers to consider on funding, investment and covenant.
"The AFS will help them think about the risks facing their scheme, to consider what levels of risk are acceptable and how to mitigate risks where appropriate."
The regulator said long-term strategies should recognise how the balance between investment risk, contributions and covenant support may change over time, particularly as schemes mature.
Since the majority of schemes are closed to new members, TPR expects maturity issues to assume greater significance for setting funding and investment strategies in the future.
Fairs continued: "Trustees have fed back to us that they find this clarity helpful in negotiating good outcomes for members and avoiding interventions and action from TPR.
"We have taken a tough stance on schemes that have not been treated fairly and will continue this approach where members' benefits are under pressure."
As part of its new regulatory approach, TPR is contacting many more schemes before triennial valuations are submitted to identify further risks. Areas that will be looked at include equitable treatment of members and long recovery plans.
The Association of Consulting Actuaries (ACA) responded to today's statement by urging TPR to remain proportionate with its powers, particularly if employers are engaged in corporate restructuring
ACA chair, Jenny Condron, said: "Identifying a fair balance between competing calls on employer resources must remain largely a decision taken at company level.
"The regulator must not be tempted to second-guess on a 'we know better' basis - an approach that would inevitably lead to new but different mistakes arriving at the regulator's door."
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