Ok its April 1st, but this isn’t an April Fools Day joke…. this is data from the Policy Exchange, founded in 2002 to help contribute the national thinking about society. I don’t know if it is the case, but it would appear that the Coalition Government had a look at this before deciding to introduce the pension rules that come into effect next week. However if you are someone still saving for a pension or an employer, the findings are not great reading, with both needng to contribute rather more to pensions. Clicking on the graphic should make it larger.
Auto Enrolment Fines – Workplace Pensions
As expected, the pensions regulator is taking auto enrolment (workplace pensions) rather more seriously than it took stakeholder pensions. Employers were warned about the prospect of fines and as the number of firms that should have started their pensions has multiplied, so have the fines. This is unlikely to alter as the momentum increases. This year medium sized and some small firms will be expected to comply with the rules. 166 penalty notices were issued in the last quarter of 2014 and over 1,100 compliance warning notices sent to firms.
Employers need to get on with their auto enrolment compliance. In practice this is a project management exercise rather than about finding a good pension. As a result I advise employers and Accountants to use the very low cost software from AE in a Box. It enables you to fully comply in time and avoid fines. Importantly it is an ongoing project – much like PAYE is an ongoing project, so data and processes need to be adhered to strictly.
AE in a Box
AE in a Box is very inexpensive, £79+VAT to set up and then £29+VAT a month thereafter. The monthly subscription will only begin 6 months prior to your staging date. I would urge you to consider this bit of kit. It isn’t a financial product, its a tool to help you do the job yourself, cost-effectively rather than getting a more expensive planner like myself involved.
Today I spent the entire morning hidden away in the company of auto enrolment experts…. Its almost as though there is a theme building in this blog. Anyway, there were some great speakers and presentations, thankfully nothing was terribly surprising, other than perhaps the candour. As I had outlined here previously, the real issues have little to do with pensions and everything to do with compliant processes and systems that work.
34 and counting…
Reliance on a payroll system may be misplaced (its not easy to tell) but one major pension provider outlined that there are 34 data fields required for each employee…can you think of 34 questions about your staff? Name, date of birth, NI number, salary, home address, email address, contribution rate…. And so on. There was no denying the importance of accurate and correct data and of course this needs proper checking and policing for security – involving your IT department or if you don’t have one… your IT person/supplier etc.
Concern about loss of pension allowance protection
My only real concern was in relation to lifetime allowance protection, after all payments into a new pension (such as auto enrolment) will, (under current rules) undo any pension protection. The thing is that employers are not permitted to advise staff not to join the auto enrolment scheme and indeed most financial advisers aren’t either due to a quirk in the rules which prevents anyone that does not hold G60 (an exam that can no longer be taken) from advising people not to join an employers pension. Yes, its daft and everyone seems to be relying on HMRC providing some sort of exemption or providing the advice themselves…. Yet here we are with lots of firms with auto enrolment already under way… now call me a cynic, but waiting for the right thing to be done seems unrealistic and naïve.
One of the good things about today was that many, well most, employers are actually pretty keen on providing staff with a pension. Yes there are some that seem to think it won’t happen (good luck with the fines) and as one commentator put it, there will be 100% take up, because 100% of employers have to offer and run a scheme, some (about 10%) of the staff will opt out, but even if 99% opted out, the rules must still be adhered to. So… better get on with it. Here is a little video about AE from a SME… yes the jargon is now in full flow! thanks to Standard Life.
What have I missed about auto enrolment?
Yesterday I suggested that auto enrolment was not really about pensions, that’s because despite it being about setting up a pension, the real emphasis is much more about communications with staff and with Government agencies. The new system is rather like PAYE, though nothing quite as simple. I have come up with 11, that’s eleven, key issues where auto enrolment will challenge your business or charity.
Contracts of employment will need to be altered reflecting the new pension arrangements; this may be a difficult discussion depending upon your type of business and workforce. Do you need to get the help of HR or even legal advice to do this properly?
Pay reviews and salary sacrifice
Some employers may use this as an opportunity to consider “salary sacrifice” or “salary exchange” this is a bizarre scenario where having a reduced gross income with the reduction paid into a pension, saves both employer and employee national insurance contributions and PAYE, yet invariably the net pay is a bit more, with more money going into a pension. Odd but true.
Payroll integration, live and up to date
Your payroll software will need to be able to integrate the new scheme, if you are a small firm and outsource this to your book keeper or Accountant; they need to be up to speed and have software that does the job.
Schemes will be managed online and the Pension Regulator may demand data going back 6 years in a format that they can readily use). This therefore has implications for your IT systems and security and in particular how you hold and backup your data about staff.
Garbage in, garbage out?
Communication with staff is also a big deal. You need to be able to evidence that you have provided all of the relevant information to your staff, email is the most obvious and cheapest delivery option, but we all know that not everyone uses email or has provided you with an up to date email address, so do you need everyone in the business to have a company email address, and what happens when they leave? Do you maintain records properly?
As a pension is an investment, there are issues about possible Money Laundering and politically exposed people. As an employer do you have evidence that you have done thorough identity and residency checks? Can you prove this? This will also identify any illegal immigrants or visa’s that have expired.
Staying silent and impartial
You might see auto enrolment as a valuable part of your staff package, however some see it as another tax and a whole lot of bureaucracy. You are not permitted to give advice about pensions or entice or discourage staff from joining the scheme. This isn’t just frowned on, it carries hefty financial penalties if revealed.
Non compliance with the rules is a dangerous approach. You may believe that you know your staff, but perhaps you should reflect on what could go wrong for you if a member of staff falls out with you, or is just plain awkward anyway (these people do exist in 2014) so make sure you have complied and that you can demonstrate that you have done so. It is pointless to ask for a bullet proof vest after the event.
You may not be aware that some people have very large pension scheme benefits. The Lifetime Allowance has reduced and will reduce again in April. Some people have protected their larger allowances, but should they accidentally enrol into a new pension, this would scupper their plans. This could trigger enormous tax penalties (55% of £1m for example) and you won’t be terribly popular with the employee that is presented with such a bill because you didn’t communicate well enough.
The cynic in me might suggest that this is another way to join-up the Government agencies, which is fine if you are doing everything properly (unless you have concerns about information flow) but of course will catch out more people that have undeclared earnings anywhere.
Impacting your budgeting
Finally, don’t rely on your costs being 3% of your payroll. It is likely that contributions levels will be raised above 8%, in Australia (where they have had compulsory pensions since 1992) employers now contribute 9.25%. You ought to allow funds for the scheme and your systems to be reviewed and of course you might be wise to provide seminars or meetings for your staff to ensure that they understand their pension.
So, auto enrolment is about pensions… well yes, but it is also about rather more besides.
Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA
Love it or loathe it, auto enrolment is under way. The biggest companies and organisations are now running their schemes. As an employer you may be thinking that you have plenty of time to sort out your auto enrolment, you don’t. On the face of it one would think that setting up a pension for everyone to be opted in from the outset would be straight-forward (if I were King…) however there are all manner of obstacles to overcome, many of which employers are not terribly aware of. The truth is that this is not really about pensions, but about compliance and communication. Whilst the process is dressed as a pension, the reality is that the pension bit is probably the easiest element to resolve.
The real issue is to ensure you are compliant with the rules. This means not being late for your date, that is your staging date (find it here). If you are a small firm with 4 or fewer staff the fixed penalty is £400 and then £50 a day. If you have 5 staff its £500 a day, rising to £10,000 a day for firms with 500 or more staff. So it simply isn’t worth being late and in practice the entire process is likely to take 12 months from start to “implementation” and rather like having a baby, the pregnancy and then birth is not the end of the job… its an ongoing process, requiring a lot of time, effort and understanding.
So in preparation (the pregnancy part) quite a lot needs doing, this is where a financial adviser can help, though many employers will hope that they don’t need assistance, they probably will. In this analogy (and I don’t want to stretch it too far) the financial adviser is rather like the local GP, who is involved with the care, monitoring and progress and the life-long after care, but the parents (the employer) carry the responsibility.
To make matters harder there are a lot of companies all trying to do the same thing at the same time. Staging dates have been staggered, but there is a genuine problem with capacity. An estimated 1.4million firms will be attempting to bring their schemes into life. This is not going to be easy and most of the pension companies that you have heard of are alarmed at the prospect and cherry picking those that they want to work with, some are also simply closing the doors. This will leave pensions that you haven’t heard of as your main choice. Here is a chart showing the staging dates over the next 3 years by quarter. So you are just going to have to trust me on this – get on with the process, wave of applications is going to cause all sorts of capacity problems for pension companies.
So, let’s see how far I can get away with the analogy…whilst you have be currently of the view that you are searching for a new date (Valentine’s is shortly upon us) you are actually already in an arranged marriage and fairly stern in-laws have planned the baby-shower and booked a hotel to be near your local maternity ward…. Well maybe it doesn’t work too well as analogy, but you get the point. Time is running out whilst auto enrolment provides the opportunity for opting out (by employees) employers are not permitted to do the same and under no account permitted to influence employees.
Tomorrow I will outline some of the key issues that have little or nothing to do with pensions, but everything to do with compliant auto enrolment… after all how many small firms can afford fines of £15,000 a month?
Dominic Thomas: Solomons IFA