As the UK economy slowly opens for business again, many renowned names will remain shuttered after going into administration during the coronavirus pandemic.

The British high street may look threadbare, following the collapse of Sir Philip Green's Arcadia empire, which hit Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Miss Selfridge, while Debenhams also went under.

Bonmarché, Cath Kidston, Harveys Furniture, Laura Ashley, Monsoon, and many others have also collapsed, as Covid lockdowns destroyed "bricks and mortar" retailers and drove business online.

While some have been bought out of administration, thousands of stores have closed for good with the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

This is a blow for staff who have to find new jobs at a difficult time, but an even bigger long-term financial worry is what happens to their pensions.

These days, most company pensions are "defined contribution schemes", where money is invested and belongs to the employee, therefore safe from company bankruptcy.

However, many defined benefit "final salary" schemes sit on the company balance sheet as a liability and are vulnerable, as Brian Power discovered when his employer, retail chain Woolworths, went bust in 2009.

Brian, 67, had worked for Woolworths since leaving school and the news came as a massive shock; "I was so gobsmacked that I threw everything into finding a new job."

It was only later that he started worrying about his retirement pot; "I joined the group pension scheme in my second year of employment, aged 21, which meant I had built up 36 years when Woolworths went bust."

Brian, from Marlow in Buckinghamshire, had heard stories of people losing all their workplace pension savings after their employer went bust just before they retired, and feared the same fate.

Like millions of workers, his pension savings were covered by the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), a statutory organisation which was set up in 2005 to protect members of defined benefit workplace pension schemes.

Chief Customer Officer Sara Protheroe said it offers a safety net to employees who suddenly find themselves in the same position as Brian; "If an employer fails and can’t pay the pension promised, we'll compensate them."

If the PPF didn’t exist, workers would get a share of whatever was left, usually a lot less, or nothing at all.

Instead, it offers compensation worth up to 90 per cent of their lost pensions, rising to 100 per cent for those above retirement age or with ill health. This takes up to two years but Protheroe said; "Pensioner members will be kept informed and continue to receive their benefits seamlessly."

The PPF is funded by a compulsory levy on workplace schemes. It’s likely to face increased demand as firms go bust following Covid but Protheroe said that with more than £5billion in reserves, it has the funding to survive; "Members of defined benefit pension schemes should be reassured that if their employer becomes insolvent, we will protect their pension."

By Harvey Jones for the Daily Express 

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