Nearly 10 million staff have now been enrolled into a workplace pension by more than 1.2 million employers, and more than 1,000 new businesses are meeting their duties each month. Automatic enrolment has been a huge success, however, there are a tiny minority who fail their staff by not meeting their responsibilities.
The number of times we used our powers between January and March this year made up 20% of all the powers we’ve used since the start of automatic enrolment. We have now issued more than 43,000 fixed penalties and more than 9,000 escalating penalties. This rise in fines reflects the rise in numbers of employers with workplace pension duties but also demonstrates that take action if an employer falls short and fails to comply.
Most employers who receive compliance notices receive them because they have failed to submit their declaration of compliance on time. In most cases, this warning is enough to prompt them to act and do the right thing. For employers who continue to fail, there are a number of ways we are alerted. These include analysing information from declarations of compliance and comparing it with other data, pension schemes reporting missing or inadequate contributions, conducting employer spot checks across the country, and reports from whistleblowers.
Whistleblowers are almost always the victims, so have the most to gain from helping us to make their employers compliant.
Those at the heart of a business may just have suspicions that something isn’t quite right, or they may know about a specific problem.
Whistleblowers alert us to instances where managers have told their staff that they won’t get a pay rise if they join a pension scheme, businesses that mislead their employees by falsely claiming they have been automatically enrolled, and companies that keep quiet about their duties in the hope that their workers won’t notice that they haven’t been given the pensions they’re entitled to.
It was a whistleblower who alerted us to the situation at Birmingham-based Crest Healthcare, whose staff were told that pension contributions were being paid by the employer when, in fact, a scheme hadn’t even been set up.
As a result, both the company and its managing director were prosecuted and after pleading guilty have now been ordered to pay a total of more than £20,000 in fines and costs. Both have criminal records, whilst their staff now have the pensions they had been denied.
Pension scheme alerts
In another recent case, thanks to the vigilance of the pension provider, TPR was able to take action when an employer illegally opted temporary staff out of the Nest pension scheme they had been enrolled into. Staff at national recruitment agency Workchain Ltd impersonated the temporary workers to opt them out of their pension using Nest’s online portal.
Company owners and directors had encouraged five senior staff at the company to opt the temporary workers out of the scheme so that the company could avoid making pension payments on their behalf.
Following a joint agency investigation, TPR prosecuted Workchain, the two directors and five senior staff for an offence of unauthorised access to computer data, under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. The defendants pleaded guilty to the offence when they appeared at Derby Magistrates’ Court last month, and sentencing will take place later this summer.
These cases demonstrate that we will take action against employers who fail to enrol their staff into a pension scheme, and deliberately attempt to avoid their responsibilities. Automatic enrolment is the law and, where appropriate, we will take employers to court to ensure staff receive the pensions they are due.