Earlier this year, The Pensions Regulator (TPR) revealed its new mantra: clearer, quicker, tougher; and it certainly has been.
Over the past two months, TPR has stepped up their activity against schemes and individuals that it believes are not meeting the required standards have felt its full force. A series of prosecutions have shown that TPR is willing to put its money where its mouth is and take a more hard-line approach to enforcement than we may have seen in the past.
At our inaugural Western Conference in November, TPR spoke about its new approach of early engagement and quickly ramping up its actions if the scheme or individual fail to comply. It believed that its old mantra of 'educate, enable, enforce' had “run its course” and tougher actions were required to improve industry standards.
This was evident early in December, when TPR launched its first fraud prosecution, against an accountant who was accused of abusing his position of scheme director. He faces a number of years in prison if found guilty of the 10 charges against him, highlighting TPR's commitment to prosecuting to the full extent of the law.
The enforcement actions continued as we approached Christmas. Dominic Chappell, BHS owner during it's highly publicised collapse, was fined £124,000 for withholding information from the regulator, before TPR opened an investigation against six people in connection with a suspected pension fraud totalling £18m.
The following day, TPR revealed it was seeking to prosecute an accounts manager for misleading it about pension schemes to try and hide his failure to provide workplace pensions at a number of restaurants. He could face an unlimited fine and up to two years imprisonment. If found guilty and if TPR's recent activity is anything to go by, I don't hold out much hope for him getting off lightly.
However, it's not only enforcement action that has been keeping TPR busy, as it was revealed earlier this week that Charles Counsell will be taking over from Lesley Titcomb as its chief executive after the new year. Counsell will be tasked with continuing the regulator's hard-line approach, but should be well informed of how TPR operate, having previously worked at the organisation as executive director of auto-enrolment.
He will still have to prove himself, however, with Frank Field already voicing his concern over the appointment, but it seems a bit unfair to judge him before he's even taken up the role.
Whatever happens, we can be sure that he will be following the regulator's new mantra of clearer, quicker, tougher, and those failing to comply with TPR's regulations could face a serious hit to their wallets, career and even their freedom.