The owners of smaller companies have begun to feel the full force of auto-enrolment legislation, as figures from The Pensions Regulator (TPR) revealed a record number of compliance notices handed out in the last three months.
Recent rule changes have meant that employers with less than 30 staff have been brought into the auto-enrolment scheme, doubling the total number of firms required to auto-enrol workers onto workplace pensions.
TPR acknowledged in its latest quarterly bulletin that despite the large increase in compliance notices, penalties had not gone up by the same proportion.
Less than five per cent of compliance notices resulted in business owners receiving an escalating penalty notice – handed out following a failure to comply with an initial fixed penalty.
Since the scope of compliance was broadened, 15,000 notices have been sent to employers. TPR has issued 3,728 fixed penalties for non-compliance in the three months to September 2016 alone.
The figures suggest owners of the smallest companies are leaving their auto-enrolment duties to the last minute, often following a “nudge” from TPR.
According to the report, “the approach of education and enabling before enforcing is both effective and proportionate”.
Commenting on the figures, Charles Counsell, executive director of auto-enrolment at TPR, suggested that the official pensions body has so far received a largely positive response from business owners regarding auto-enrolment responsibilities. He stated the key message was that the body was “here to help”.
“The vast majority of employers are meeting their automatic enrolment duties. A small minority do leave plans too late but in most cases the nudge of a compliance notice is enough to get them back on track and avoid a fine,” Counsell said in a statement.
Despite the official line from TPR suggesting a degree of co-operation and leniency, the regulator has taken a hard-line on firms that don’t meet the necessary requirements.
The regulator has outlined a series of excuses it deemed “unreasonable” and not adequate to avoid financial penalties.
Employers that claimed to find the online system too difficult to use – or argued that they were not sufficiently reminded about their duties – were still faced with the legal consequences of non-compliance.
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