Toys R Us future in UK plunged into doubt over pension scheme

Toys inside a Toys R Us store in LutonImage copyrightGetty Images

Toys R Us is facing an uncertain future in the UK after it was told to put £9m into its struggling pension fund by the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).

It has to come up with the money by Thursday in order for the PPF to agree to the retailer’s restructuring plan.

Earlier this month, Toys R Us said it would close at least 26 UK stores, leading to the loss of up to 800 jobs, as part of the plan.

Toys R Us future in UK plunged into doubt over pension scheme
Toys R Us future in UK plunged into doubt over pension scheme

Failure to agree a deal could put all its 3,200 staff at risk of redundancy.

That plan is part of a proposed company voluntary agreement (CVA), which allows the firm to restructure its finances.

If the CVA does not go through, the company could fall into administration.

Retail consultant Richard Hyman told the Today programme: “This is a real Catch 22 situation.” The situation could leave Toys R Us having to choose between the futures of its past or present employees.

The company has reassured shoppers seeking last-minute presents by saying: “There will be no disruption for customers shopping through the Christmas and New Year period.”

Toys R Us factfile

  • The toy retailer started in the US in the 1950s
  • It reached the UK in 1985, as a subsidiary of the US chain, when it opened five stores
  • It launched its UK website in 1996
  • The retailer now has 105 stores around the UK
  • Its flagship stores are at London’s Brent Cross shopping centre and in Bristol

Malcolm Weir, director of restructuring and insolvency at the PPF, said: “We continue to work closely with the trustees of the Toys R Us pension scheme and externally appointed advisors given the current CVA proposals.

“The pension scheme is already underfunded and, if we were to vote in favour of the CVA, we would need actions taken that ensure the position of the pension scheme was not going to further weaken.”

Mr Hyman added that the PPF was “upping their game” after being criticised for its handling of the closure of BHS.

“They are becoming much more pro-active, but this pro-activity might hasten the demise of Toys R Us itself,” he added.

Toy’s R Us’s parent company in the US is in formal bankruptcy protection proceedings.

Recent reports suggest it is considering closing between 100 and 200 stores in America.

Image copyrightPA

However, toy industry expert Peter Jenkinson did offer some hope to the company, if it can resolve its current difficulties.

“The toy industry was in rude health in the UK last year,” he told BBC 5 live Breakfast.

“Toys R Us does suffer because it has some very big stores in prime locations and the rent has gone up.

“Its in-store activity has been found wanting a little bit compared with other toy retailers and it has fallen behind.

“However, if the restructuring goes through then some of its stores could thrive. There are stores I’ve been into over the last month that have really started to up their game.

“The UK toy industry is behind them and wants to see them survive in some format.

“Buying toys is as much as of an experience as playing with them and taking a trip out to the toy shop is starting to come back into fashion.”

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