TPR warns employers against neglecting AE duties while adapting to ‘new normal’

The Pensions Regulator (TPR) has warned employers that they must not neglect their workplace pension duties as they adjust to the ‘new normal’ in the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a blog, TPR director of automatic enrolment (AE), Mel Charles, noted that although businesses will be going through changes, they must continue to assess staff, carry out re-enrolment duties and put new staff into a pension.

He recognised that some sectors, such as businesses that historically employ part-time or seasonal workers with fluctuating earnings, are at greater risk of non-compliance, and stated that the regulator was “looking at the unique challenges” within these sectors so it can best support them to avoid non-compliance.

TPR will also be “keeping a close eye” on the gig economy, which it said was set to grow further as the UK emerges from the pandemic, calling on employers in this sector to “step up and do the right thing” for their employees.

Gig economy workers are now more likely to be eligible for workplace pension rights following the Supreme Court ruling on Uber employees.

“We want to see all employers in the gig economy comply with their responsibilities voluntarily and promptly,” Charles stated.

“We treat all employers the same and we will take enforcement action where appropriate to ensure all savers are protected – no matter what sector they work in.”

Charles also called on employers that are struggling to “not put their head in the sand and wait for a fine”, and instead speak to their pension provider to see if they can set up a payment plan so their staff receive the correct contributions.

“Inevitably and sadly, for some businesses the consequences of the pandemic will be too great, leading them to become insolvent,” Charles wrote.

“In these instances, our focus will be to work with insolvency practitioners and the Insolvency and Redundancy Payment Services so that staff do not miss out on their pensions.”

The blog also noted that, throughout the pandemic, compliance with the law had “remained high” and that, despite financial pressures faced by staff, opt-out rates had remained low.

Charles concluded: “Indications are also that often, when staff who originally opted out of their pension are re-enrolled by their employer, they take advantage of the fresh opportunity to start saving.

“Re-enrolment must be carried out by employers every three years and it’s important they check their processes are up to date to ensure staff are re-assessed and put into a pension if they are eligible.

“We have all overcome great obstacles since March 2020 and there will be yet more testing times to come. While we can expect more change and more upheaval, our commitment to workplace savers remains constant. We will continue to support employers to do the right thing so that staff receive the pensions they are due.”

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