EXCLUSIVE: Francis Catering Equipment administrators investigate pensions irregularities

FRP Advisory is currently investigating pension irregularities at Francis Catering Equipment.

The administrators that handled the insolvency of Francis Catering Equipment and the subsequent transfer of its assets to Unitech are currently looking into irregularities surrounding the former company’s employee pension scheme, Catering Insight has learned.

FRP Advisory is working to establish the value of an apparent pension deficit, which could see former employees of the now-defunct Francis business issue claims for outstanding amounts.

Steve Stokes, partner at FRP Advisory and joint liquidator of Francis Catering Equipment and its associated company, Specialised Stainless Products, said: “We are aware of an issue relating to employee pension contributions prior to the insolvencies of Francis Catering Equipment and Specialised Stainless Products, and have written to those employees affected seeking confirmation of pension deductions from their salaries.

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“Once we have confirmed the value of deductions, this information will be passed to the Redundancy Payments Service. As part of the insolvency process, we will also consider any residual claims of the former employees.”

Ex-Francis Catering Equipment managing director, Neil Humphries, confirmed to Catering Insight that he is aware of the situation and acknowledged that there are pension issues relating to the old company that are currently in the process of being resolved.

“These stem from administrative confusion between ourselves and our external payroll providers around the staging date for auto enrolment,” he explained. “We accept our part in this scenario and have therefore been working for a number of months with the administrators for the business, FRP Advisory, to ensure that they have all of the relevant information. They are now working on behalf of all past and present employees and directors to obtain the best possible outcome for all.”

Sources familiar with the situation told Catering Insight that ahead of workplace pension automatic enrolments in 2015, Francis instituted what staff believed was a pension programme, but payments that employees made into the scheme did not show up on records when they were enrolled into Unitech’s Scottish Widows pension scheme, following their transfer over to the new company.

Unitech is understood to be aiming to alleviate the situation, with options under consideration including setting aside future profits to reimburse the affected employees that now work for its business.

Humphries has now left Francis Commercial Kitchen Services, the new entity formed by Unitech Industries’ purchase of the Midlands-based distributor’s assets in October 2017.

On his departure he commented: “I have headed up the sales side of the business in one capacity or another for some 25 years. Having now overseen both the integration and relocation of the business into the Unitech Industries Group, I felt it now needed a new and different voice to oversee the next phase of its development and take on board the wider group offerings and strategy.

“I leave behind an excellent team, and know that under the stewardship of Nick Imlah and the Unitech Group they will now go from strength to strength. It also allows me personally to now explore new opportunities for the next phase of my career.”

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5 Comments

  1. Disgruntled former employee said:

    “These stem from administrative confusion between ourselves and our external payroll providers around the staging date for auto enrolment,” he explained.

    Hmmmm ok, administrative confusion. Not for a month or two, maybe that could be classed as an administrative mix up for sure. But an administrative confusion that went undetected for nearly TWO YEARS with no one saying something.

    Also how does this explain unreturned phone calls from the pensions regulator to discuss the issue of auto enrollment and the alleged legal notice that had already been served against the company! Maybe if these calls had been taken in May 2017 the administrative error could have been bought to light? If only the regulator knew at that time that not only were the employees enrolled into a scheme as required by law but they were paying towards something which didn’t even exist!

    If the pension direct debits we approved each month and money supposedly left the company accounts then where exactly did it go for 18 months? If it’s not with the pension provider then the only other option was that it stayed withing the company account. Aegon confirmed that there is no money left unallocated with them for the Francis holdings pension scheme so looks like it’s not there either.

    Deductions were made from all Francis Catering employees every single month and we had no reason to doubt the money was being transferred into the pension we signed up for because we had trust in certain people. Well that trust has been well and truly shattered which is a very sad note to end on.

    On the plus side however –

    We will get stronger and Unitech have been nothing but supportive to all involved. The team is more motivated than i have seen in a long time. Bring on the rest of 2018 and a new future.

    • Ex employee said:

      Ex employee:

      Basically, he lied cheated and robbed all the people who trusted him to do the right thing for them, we gave 100% and that’s how he repaid us ! The emails came through chasing payment and were sent direct to him ? Really tell me he didnt know come on we’ve been fooled once please not for a second time. We chased every avenue after the company ceased trading but all came to nothing, there was never a pension pot and that we are sure of, surely this is bad management and should not be allowed. All the right people are now aware of the situation he left his workers in and hopefully the regulators will make sure he pays for this.

      I really feel for the ex directors as Francis was a one man band, they never got a say and never got a vote it was Neil’s way or no way and we all knew how it was.

      Onwards and up I feel sure Nick and the team he has chosen will go on to do a Stirling job and wish them all the very best.

  2. Worked with Francis for many years said:

    The two comments above really hit the nail on the head. I was appalled when reading this article, having been in the industry and involved with Francis for many years and I think this is the first case of pension fraud I have come across.

    Neil Humphries’s comment about administrative confusions say two things 1) He was fully aware of the pension fraud that was happening under his command and as Managing Director and majority shareholder he should be fully accountable and liable both professional and personally for this pension deficit. 2) He genuinely wasn’t aware and due to his inadequate management, this money was taken out of salaries and not paid to a pension fund as there wasn’t even one set up. Would this inadequate management be a reason Francis & SPP went into liquidation?

    Even if, now this is a big if. This isn’t pension fraud, surely this appalling management will be investigated by the DTI and pension regulators?

    I ask that Neil Humphries admits what happened so all of HIS ex-employees that worked under him for many years have any chance of getting their money back!

  3. Ex employee said:

    The whole situation is shocking and the fact he has the nerve to still make such poor excuses says it all about the man. Their were 5 directors of this company I don’t believe neither of them knew this was going on, as far as I’m concerned all of them have played their part and are to blame one way or another.

    • Ex employee said:

      As an ex employee I feel your statement harsh, you know how Neil ran the business and the fact these guys had no say was so obvious on more than one occasion, it was far easier to talk to one of the directors than it was to Neil. As staff if there was a problem he was difficult to approach as we never knew how he would react or respond to our request. So how can you blame these guys they were really in the same situation as the rest of us!

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