Crest Healthcare and its managing director have been fined over £20,000 for purposefully neglecting their auto-enrolment duties and misleading The Pensions Regulator and staff about their workplace pensions, it has been revealed.
At Brighton Magistrates’ Court yesterday, 15 May 2018, Crest Healthcare and managing director Sheila Aluko pleaded guilty for knowingly or recklessly providing false or misleading information to TPR and two counts of wilfully failing to comply with their auto-enrolment duties.
On 22 March 2016, Aluko submitted a declaration of compliance to TPR claiming that the employer had fulfilled its auto-enrolment duties. She noted that staff had received written confirmation about the scheme and stated that 25 had been enrolled. However, the company had not completed the setting up of the scheme and had not enrolled any of its staff or written to them about auto-enrolment.
In addition to this, Crest Healthcare deducted pension contributions from its staff’s wages and kept them the company’s bank account for over eight months.
The case was highlighted by a whistleblower who contacted TPR to voice workers’ suspicions that they had been misled into believing their pension scheme was fully operating.
District judge Teresa Szagun, who sentenced the company and its managing director emphasised that companies and individuals should not benefit from avoiding their auto-enrolment duties. She noted that Aluko “must, as an intelligent businesswoman, have appreciated the obligations on her and also the intent of auto-enrolment” and that her response to the whistleblower was dismissive.
The judge fined Crest Healthcare £13,000 for its pension obligation neglect and £3,404 for costs and a £120 victim surcharge. Aluko has been ordered to pay £1,624 as well as £3,404 for costs and a £120 victim surcharge also.
“The need to deter this type of offending requires a penalty proportionate with the seriousness of the offence,” Szagun concluded.
TPR director of automatic enrolment Darren Ryder said: “Whistleblowers have a vital role to play in helping us ensure workers are getting the pensions they are entitled to. The whistleblower in this case highlighted that workers who asked Sheila Aluko about their pensions were being fobbed off with the false claim that they had been automatically enrolled. When we investigated, Aluko's story unravelled.
“I would urge anyone who believes their employer is breaching its automatic enrolment duties to contact us. We will not tolerate non-compliance and, as this case shows, neither will the courts.”