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