Auto-Enrolment Pensions – employers’ responsibilities

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As an avid quizzer, I found myself somewhat perplexed when recently asked: “Who is Workie?” 

Clue 1: he first appeared on our TV screens in 2015

Clue 2: despite being huge and multi-coloured he is ignored by all around him

Clue 3: he was used in a national campaign

Any ideas? I certainly didn’t, but then kicked myself when I was told that Workie was the “physical embodiment” of the workplace auto-enrolment pension.

Automatic enrolment into workplace pensions has been rolling out across the UK since 2012, starting with larger companies before moving on to smaller employees. Each employer was given a staging date, by which time the employer had to ensure that all its eligible jobholders were auto-enrolled in a qualifying scheme from their automatic enrolment date (AED), unless they were already active members of the employer's qualifying scheme. From 1 October 2017, all start-up businesses have a legal duty to put staff straight into a workplace pension as soon as they employ them.

So, with positive reinforcement from Workie, how successful has auto-enrolment been? Figures from November 2017 suggest that the number of people saving into a workplace pension has increased by more than 8.8 million, while nearly 850,000 employers have met their automatic enrolment duties.  But what about those who do not meet their duties? In summer 2017, the Pensions Regulator announced that, as part of their approach to enforcing auto-enrolment pensions, they would name employers who have received Escalating Penalty Notices (EPNs) for automatic enrolment failures, and CCJs for failing to pay fines.

At their disposal, the Pensions Regulator have enforcement teams who make spot checks around the country, to ensure employers are complying with their automatic enrolment duties and to take enforcement action where necessary. In November 2017, they announced spot checks on more than 200 businesses in Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Kent as part of a nationwide enforcement campaign which has already covered London, Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Scotland and South Wales.

In addition to being issued with an escalating penalty notice (EPN) at a prescribed daily rate of between £50 and £10,000, depending on the number of staff, there is an associated reputational impact on non-compliant companies. The Pensions Regulator maintains a publicly accessible online list of employers who have paid their EPN but remain non-compliant, along with those who failed to pay and are now subject to a court order. Birmingham-based Crest Healthcare and its managing director are being prosecuted for trying to avoid providing staff with a workplace pension and they were summonsed to appear at Brighton Magistrates’ Court in December 2017.

So, when employing staff for the first time, you should:

  • Decide how much to pay employees. This must comply with the National Minimum Wage.
  • Check if someone has the legal right to work in the UK. You may have to conduct other employment checks as well.
  • Find out if DBS checks (formerly known as a CRB checks) are required. For example, this applies if you work with vulnerable people or in a security role.
  • Get employment insurance – you need employers’ liability insurance as soon as you become an employer.
  • Send details of the job, including terms and conditions, in writing to your employee. You need to give your employee a written statement of employment if you are employing someone for more than one month.
  • Inform HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) by registering as an employer – you can do this up to four weeks before you pay your new staff.  
  • Check if you need to automatically enrol your staff into a workplace pension.

Employment law can be a minefield for businesses of all sizes, with ever-changing EU labour laws and UK legislation to contend with. Buckles Solicitors has a dedicated and experienced employment law team that prides itself in providing its clients with a fast, approachable and no-nonsense service to work with you to avoid these minefields.