The Maxwell pension scandal could be repeated despite the raft of legislation introduced to protect members over the last 20 years, experts have warned.
Saturday 5 November marks 20 years since Robert Maxwell died after falling overboard from his yacht in 1991, with the discovery that £450m of investments were missing from the pension funds of his companies.
The hole left more than 30,000 members in danger of losing their benefits – they had to wait until 1995 for their pensions to be secured – and triggered the Pensions Act 1995 as well as a multitude of other legislation.
But pension experts believe, despite all these rules being put in place, such problems could occur again.
Barnett Waddingham consultant Malcolm McLean said: “I do not think any of the measures introduced would have stopped a determined crook like Maxwell from taking the money.
"He would have needed to have brow-beaten trustees and done things behind their back, but there is no way you can stop that for sure.”
The Pensions Archive Trust chairman Alan Herbert agreed legislation on its own could not stop a repeat of Maxwell, believing the system relies on voluntary governance routines and controls.
He said: “This is a very opportune moment to remind people what did happen and to remind trustees and managers of the things that can go wrong if you’re not exercising good governance and controls.
“The legislation has not addressed this. The introduction of member nominated trustees has played a part but it still comes back to people being very diligent.”
Eversheds head of pensions disputes and litigation Giles Orton also questioned the value of the additional regulation.
He said: “You wonder whether we would have been better off with the unregulated system and accept the fact that a Maxwell might come along every 20 years and steal £150m.
"The biggest losers are the people now going into pensions and finding they’re offered the much riskier defined contribution.”
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