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Robins v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2007]

C-278/05 Robins v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2007] represents a significant intersection of UK insolvency law, labour law, and EU law, focusing on the protection of employees' pension rights upon the insolvency of their employer. The case revolved around the adequacy of the UK's implementation of Directive 80/987/EEC (the Insolvency Directive), specifically Article 8, which concerns the protection of employees' entitlements in the event of their employer's insolvency.


Robins, who was employed by a now insolvent company, found himself facing significant reductions in his expected final salary pension benefits due to the insolvency of the pension scheme. He sought compensation, arguing that the UK had failed to provide the level of social protection for employees' pension entitlements as required by the Insolvency Directive. The question was whether the UK's measures, particularly the Financial Assistance Scheme established under the Pensions Act 2004 section 286, were sufficient to meet the Directive's requirements.


The European Court of Justice (ECJ), led by Judge Timmermans, clarified several key points in its judgment. First, the ECJ determined that EU member states are not required to ensure pension funds are fully guaranteed in the event of insolvency. Instead, member states could mandate pension schemes to purchase insurance to protect pension benefits, offering an alternative method of protection.


However, the ECJ found that the protection provided by the UK, particularly through its Financial Assistance Scheme, was insufficient. With potential benefits as low as 20% of the entitlement, the scheme did not constitute 'protection' within the meaning of Article 8 of the Insolvency Directive. This indicated a failure in the proper implementation of the Directive by the UK.


The judgment also addressed the circumstances under which a Member State might incur liability for failing to implement the Directive correctly. Following the principle established in Brasserie du Pecheur SA v Germany, the ECJ indicated that liability would depend on a manifest and grave disregard for the limits of the Member State's discretion. The national court would need to consider the clarity and precision of Article 8 and the degree of discretion afforded to national authorities in determining the level of protection required.


This case highlights the complex interplay between national law and EU directives, particularly in the context of employee rights and social protection in insolvency situations. It underscores the necessity for Member States to ensure that their national measures effectively safeguard employees' entitlements to the extent required by EU law. Additionally, Robins v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions serves as a reminder of the potential liability that Member States face for inadequately implementing EU directives, emphasising the need for careful consideration of the obligations imposed by EU law.


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