West Midland businesses with final salary pension schemes face a new threat, following an announcement that a planned Government levy on such schemes is to be set at almost double the amount first suggested.
The UK's estimated 8,000 final salary schemes will next year have to pay £575 million to finance the Pension Protection Fund, which was set up to bail out failed pension funds.
Originally, the Government had said that the hit would be £300 million and Mario Conti, a pension fund law expert at Birmingham and London law firm Martineau Johnson, says that this extra burden will tip more schemes into serious trouble.
"The PPF is blaming the increase to £575 million on the fact that people are living longer.
"This trend has been clear for some time and it can't account for the extra burden.
"Some experts are now predicting that life expectancy has peaked, for various reasons, including the diet and trend to obesity in younger people.
"It looks to me as though the Government made an error in the calculations."
PPF chairman Lawrence Churchill has sought to mini-mise the blow by saying that the extra money will come from pension schemes not from employers.
But Mr Conti noted: "Most of the cash that goes into final salary pension schemes comes from companies, with the balance from employees' salaries. It is employers and employees who will foot the bill for the PPF.
"From April next year, the levy will vary according to the risk profile of the pension scheme. The load will therefore fall most heavily on schemes that are already not in a strong financial position.
"Through both elements, pension schemes will be hit first but the ultimate burden will fall on employers.
"All this could cause real problems for businesses with final salary schemes, including those who have tried to continue operating such funds as a good HR practice."
Mr Conti adds that it is not only traditional business sectors that are affected.
"Charities with final salary schemes are in the firing line as well as businesses, and those which have significant deficits will ultimately face the threat of heavy payments. Some would say that the levy amounts to a tax on charities."
The PPF estimates that the deficits in final salary schemes, where pension payments are calculated by reference to salary payments, now total £100 billion.
The schemes have suffered from longer life expectancy of members, lower investment returns and effectively an annual tax rise of around £5 billion, dating back to Chancellor Gordon Brown's first Budget.
If one of these schemes fails, the PPF takes responsibility for payments to pensioners and scheme members who are still to retire.
Mr Conti said: "I welcome the end of pension fund protection but not the means. Many of the deficits that exist now will be eliminated in the long term as investment returns improve and the additional life expectancy peaks.
"This is a strong argument for a longer term view and not an immediate hit, of a size which could be totally counter-productive."