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Alarming new stats prove that when it comes to workplace pensions, employers should “be a Leicester City, not a Swindon Town”

If you want to avoid a fine for failing to set up your workplace pension, don’t make the same mistake as Swindon Town F.C. and drag your heels. That’s the message from pensions expert The Auto Enrolment Advisor in the light of alarming new statistics surrounding so-called auto enrolment.

Figures just released from The Pensions Regulator (TPR) show an alarming rise in the first quarter of 2016 for warning notices and fines, the sort issued to football club Swindon Town for repeatedly failing to comply with the new law surrounding auto enrolment. The law requires every business in the UK to enroll eligible employees in a qualifying workplace pension scheme.

The statistics show a spike in the number of warning, or compliance, notices issued over the last quarter; a startling upwards trend for warnings over the last six months; and a tripling in the amount of fines collected these last six months.

The fact that only small and medium sized businesses are now working towards auto enrolment (larger employers have already signed up) makes the figures even more worrying, says The Auto Enrolment Advisor, which warns of the possible financial impact on a smaller business.

Although the TPR figures show a 90% compliance rate for businesses creating pension plans, they also show:

  • 806 fixed penalty notices, carrying a £400 fine, were issued to small and medium-sized businesses from January to March 2016. That compares to 1,428 fixed penalty notices issued in the previous three and a half years to larger businesses, who were the first ones bound to comply with auto enrolment.
  • Fixed penalty notices have been showing a steep rise for the last six months. The amount of fixed penalty notices that went out between October 2015 and March 2016 account for 82% of all the fixed penalty notices distributed since auto enrolment began three years ago.
  • In the six months between September 2015 and March 2016, TPR sent out 5,653 compliance letters, or warning notices, to small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) – the equivalent of 31 letters per day. That’s compared to 2,181 warning letters in the last three years, and an average of just two a day issued to larger employers.
  • From January to March 2016, the number of escalating penalty notices like the one issued to Swindon Town – carrying daily fines that can run into the thousands – jumped to 96. That’s a spike of 300% from the previous 42 months.
  • There were 120 escalating penalty notices issued in the last six months. Up until September 2015, only seven of these notices were served.

While Swindon Town F.C. settled its fines of more than £22,000 in February, the statistics show a worrying a trajectory for small and medium sized business owners setting up their employees’ pensions, says The Auto Enrolment Advisor. Warning that the heavy fines are going to hit smaller businesses harder, the pensions expert urged employers to “be a Leicester City, not a Swindon Town”, in a nod to Leicester City’s recent victory in the Premier League.

Graham Robinson of The Auto Enrolment Advisor said:

“With all that’s happening in the football leagues right now, there are messages that could be applied to employers when it comes to workplace pension sign-ups. Just as a football club needs a talented and satisfied team and to make its supporters happy, so an employer needs to maintain the backing of its staff, and in turn satisfy customers. In other words, they want to end up as popular as Leicester City, not in a mire of negative headlines like Swindon Town. And they certainly don’t want to drag their heels so much that they face their own form of ‘relegation’ like Dundee United!

“On a serious note, the auto enrolment compliance rate of 90% should be celebrated as it’s a far greater level of compliance than naysayers were predicting. But with a huge surge in warning letters going out, it’s clear that more needs to be done so that small and medium sized businesses don’t end up facing a fine like Swindon Town.

“To put The Pensions Regulator’s statistics in financial terms, in the 3-year period from when auto enrolment began until September 2015, The Pension Regulator collected £229,200 in fixed penalty notices. From October 2015 to March 2016 TPR collected £730,800.

“What makes these figures distressing is that in the last 6 months it was solely small and medium sized businesses that had to comply with auto enrolment. A fine of £400 means an awful lot more to a smaller firm than it does to the mega firms who pioneered auto enrolment.”

  • For more on auto enrolment and the full version of the article visit The Auto Enrolment Advisor at theautoenrolmentadvisor.co.uk
  • The Auto Enrolment Advisor will take part in Staging Fright? Everything you need to know about auto enrolment, two events held by Perthshire Chamber of Commerce and Forth Valley Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday 31st It will also hold free surgeries in Perth on the same day. For more information and to book email hazel@theautoenrolmentadvisor.co.uk

Auto enrolment: navigate it like a thoroughbred and stay the course with our Aintree-inspired guide

If this year’s Crabbie’s Grand National taught us anything, it’s that determination, skill and great coaching are utmost when you’re navigating something new.

The surprising winner was Rule The World with odds of 33/1 and a history of injury, and a 19-year-old jockey who had never run the race before. The man behind both was veteran trainer Mouse Morris, who had overcome personal tragedy – the loss of his son – to claim victory at Aintree.

As the Auto Enrolment Advisor explains, there are many parallels to be drawn between the Grand National and navigating your way around the new workplace pension rules. Here’s our Aintree-inspired step-by-step guide to staying the course.

Employers going through auto enrolment in the next 12 months are probably feeling very much like a horse on Grand National day: anxious about the track ahead and the many daunting obstacles they have to clear.

But, like a thoroughbred on a race course needs a good jockey to guide and a trainer to drive them, employers need stewardship. In navigating auto enrolment they require the right guidance when setting up. That, in turn, will have them racing successfully to the finish line.

The First Fence
The first fence at the Grand National is famous for bringing down horses that approach it at the wrong speed. The first hurdle of auto enrolment is similar; it looks straightforward but many have tripped up when carrying out their initial assessment of their auto enrolment duties to date. It’s important that employers are careful and accurate when clearing this first obstacle as a mistake here can be critical. In their initial assessment, this is where employers identify which staff need to be enrolled and from this they can start plotting the rest of their journey.

Becher’s Brook

The next hurdle in the auto enrolment journey could be likened to Becher’s Brook at Aintree – the toughest obstacle up until now. For employers, that obstacle is designing the appropriate pension scheme for their workplace. They can build on an existing pension scheme (if it’s a qualifying scheme), amend a scheme’s policy to line up with the new auto enrolment rules, or choose from another, new, scheme. It’s important that the guidance employers get is tailored to give the best results for them and their company. The wrong choice of provider, much like the wrong path, will be onerous and difficult to overcome.

The Chair
The next major obstacle is like The Chair at the Grand National, and that’s the administration process. It signals the halfway point of setting up auto enrolment and is the point at which employers need to review what they have done to date and start to plan for the second half. The wrong payroll software or a lack of clarity in contractual arrangements can make the next two obstacles significantly more difficult. Experience in the saddle is at its most valuable at this point.
The Canal Turn
By now, all staff are probably aware of auto enrolment but nothing has been formally communicated to them to date. Communicating the auto enrolment information is required by law. Like the Canal Turn at Aintree, it may feel like employers have been over this before a circuit earlier. But this time it really is different. The end is in sight and it seems uncomplicated, but it’s important that employers maintain complete focus. They don’t want to slip on something which seems so straightforward.

St Valentine’s Brook
Once they make it to this landmark, riders in the Grand National can sense they are close to the end. For employers, this is the time of implementing the auto enrolment scheme. By now they know pretty well what they’re doing and the guidance they’ve had is paying off. But there are still a few fences to jump. Although they can still recover from minor slip-ups at this point, mistakes are still going to slow them down.

The Run In
Employers have cleared the last of the obstacles and there doesn’t seem much left to do. They’re probably drained and just want it over with as soon as possible. But there’s still a chance of tripping up or falling. The majority of compliance notices and fines handed out for auto enrolment have been issued as a result of employers not submitting their Declaration of Compliance, which notifies The Pensions Regulator that they have met their auto enrolment duties, and within the desired timescale.  This is a bit like jumping all the fences at the National and leading on the Run In before getting pipped at the post.  Doing all the hard work to fail at the very end is pointless. That’s why it’s important that professionals are there to help.

The Finish Line
This is the point of victory – when employers enjoy the spoils of happy staff and relief that they have fully complied with their duties. What makes navigating the course easier and less stressful? Having information, reminders and know-how at your fingertips.

For more on auto enrolment and the full version of the article visit The Auto Enrolment Advisor at www.theautoenrolmentadvisor.co.uk

Small businesses confused over auto enrolment urged to seek help, be prepared as ‘tsunami’ begins

With worry high among small businesses over new workplace pension rules, and deadlines looming for sign-up, now is the time for employers to seek professional help.

Almost half (45%) of small businesses are confused about auto enrolment rules obliging them to enrol employees in a qualifying workplace pension scheme, according to a recent study by the Federation of Small Businesses. The study also found that three-quarters of small businesses felt the regulations would put too much pressure on them, and that one in four thought their business might not cope with the added financial demands.

The news comes just as auto enrolment activity ramps up, with a tidal wave of enrolment and re-enrolment hitting the business community all over the UK.

The Auto Enrolment Advisor, set up to help guide company owners and directors through the auto enrolment process, said the report’s findings stressed the need for small businesses to be prepared.

The Auto Enrolment Advisor’s Graham Robinson commented:

“Typically, small, micro and medium sized businesses (SMEs) have less awareness of issues such as auto enrolment due to their size. They don’t have in-house human resources departments to manage the process, like many of the early employers who met their obligations. So to negate this, early preparation is critical.”

Robinson warned that smaller employers may face another issue too: what he calls “the capacity crunch”. The Government’s auto enrolment rules were rolled out in 2012, with only large employers affected at first. Over the next two years more than a million SMEs will be complying with the regulations. Tens of thousands are expected to comply, or ‘stage’, each month during 2016 and 2017, and more than 500,000 employers are due to stage in 2016 alone.

Robinson commented:

“As we progress, the number of schemes registered is rising sharply. The peak is expected to be August 2017, but 2016 is set to be an exceptionally busy year too. Added to this, the first employers to tackle auto enrolment in 2012 will be the first to implement re-enrolment, which may put further strain on the administration process of the providers.

“The auto enrolment ‘tsunami’ that experts have been predicting has started. Our advice to SMEs is to seek proper legal advice and start the necessary processes as soon as possible.”

Although 51% of businesses think they can meet the challenge of the new workplace pension, 26% did not know their staging date, according to the FSB findings.

Robinson said that increased media coverage surrounding auto enrolment, coupled with the Department for Work and Pensions’ recent ‘Workie’ advertising campaign, made him confident that employer confusion surrounding auto enrolment would diminish. He added:

“However, it should be stressed that the earlier they speak to someone the more the advisor can help them with their enrolment.”