The Pensions Regulator will investigate dividends extracted from Wilko as part of a wider investigation into the value chain’s collapse last month.
It comes as pressure ramps up for its family shareholders to address the £56m deficit in the retailer’s pension fund, The Sunday Times reported.
Administrators at PwC estimate the deficit in the scheme, which holds 2,000 members, is £76m on a buyout basis.
It is set to recover £20m from security it took over a distribution centre and other freehold properties.
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Wilko’s pension scheme is being assessed by the Pension Protection Fund, which will fully protect the savings of members already at retirement age but those below retirement age will see their incomes cut by up to 10%.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the Pensions Regulator can force company owners to fill shortfalls if their actions are considered to have put the fund at risk.
The Wilkinson family have faced backlash for paying £77m to themselves and former shareholders in the ten years before the retailer fell into administration.
This included a £3m dividend last year, which was paid despite Wilko reporting losses of £39m, while £3.2m was also paid out in 2018 when the discounter recorded a £65m loss.
Lisa Wilkinson has justified the payouts made during the period of financial losses, citing the company’s £100m in assets and a robust bank balance of £58m.
She said: “The board checked that we’d got profits or reserved profits, there was sufficient cash, we went through the right governance, the auditors checked it off.
“Is there a bit of me lying awake at night saying I wish we’d never taken a penny of dividends out? It might have made us survive a couple of months longer,” she said, adding that it “really wouldn’t have made a difference”.