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From 1st March this year, businesses with fewer than 58 employees will start having to comply with the new auto-enrolment pensions legislation and by 1st June, those with fewer than 30 staff will be captured by the legislation.

In total more than 46,000 companies will have to begin providing their employees with a workplace pension this year with, while next year, 512,000 will be affected.

What is auto-enrolment?

Auto-enrolment is the UK’s new workplace pensions initiative. Designed to get a larger proportion of the population saving for retirement, the policy makes it a legal requirement for all employers to automatically enrol any employee who meets the below requirements into a workplace pension and makes contributions to that pension:

  • Is between the age of 22 and State Pension Age (65)
  • Earns more than £10,000 a year*.

How much will it cost?

The minimum employer contributions are 1% of each employees’ qualifying earnings, increasing to 3% over time. Employees will also contribute with a minimum of 1% of their qualifying earnings, increasing to 5% over time. See table below:

Auto-enrolment minimum contributions based on qualifying earnings

Date Employer minimum contribution Total minimum contribution
Until 30th September 2017 1% 2%
1st October 2017 to 30 September 2018 2% 5%
1st October 2018 onwards 3% 8%

Morten Nilsson, CEO of NOW: Pensions said, “Last year, of the 4,279 companies that signed up with us, nearly one in five completed their application either very close to their staging date or after the deadline had passed. While we’re happy to accept companies that leave it late we strongly recommend that employers make their provider selection as early as possible to avoid unnecessary stress.”

“Approaching auto-enrolment can feel daunting and there are a lot of things to consider, particularly for firms that have never set up a pension scheme before. But a little planning can go a long way and taking a thorough approach will certainly pay dividends.”

Top five tips:

1) A little planning goes a long way

For small businesses faced with the prospect of tackling auto-enrolment, planning ahead shouldn’t be underestimated. The Pensions Regulator recommends firms begin their planning 18 months in advance of their staging date but it seems their pleas are largely falling on deaf ears.

Research NOW: Pensions conducted with 450 small and medium sized companies** revealed that 44% haven’t given any thought to how they’ll go about finding a provider for auto-enrolment, while over a fifth intend to rely on their existing provider.

Leaving auto-enrolment to the last minute will inevitably result in more limited provider choice, increased administrative pressure and unnecessary stress. The simple truth is the longer businesses allow themselves to implement the changes, the easier the process will be.

2) Don’t make any assumptions

Companies planning to rely on their existing provider for auto-enrolment should speak to them early on to ensure that the scheme qualifies for auto-enrolment and to confirm that they are willing to extend it to all employees on the same terms.

3) Seek help

For small firms introducing a workplace pension for the first time, it would be worth seeking guidance from an adviser who can help identify a value-for-money scheme that is suited to the workforce.

While selecting an appropriate scheme is imperative, payroll providers also have a very important role to play. Companies with outsourced payroll arrangements should contact their payroll provider as soon as possible to find out what auto-enrolment support they offer and which pension providers they work with. By selecting a pension provider that is already integrated with their payroll provider, firms can avoid unnecessary hassle and expense. So making enquiries early on is time well spent.

4) Cleanse your data

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in the auto-enrolment process is inaccurate or incomplete payroll data. Taking the time to ensure that payroll data is complete and entirely up to date, will help avoid problems during the implementation process and beyond. Where possible, companies should try and obtain e-mail addresses for all staff as issuing communications about auto-enrolment via email is often cheaper and more efficient than post.

5) Give thought to contributing more than the minimum

Nearly one in five small and medium sized companies we surveyed say they plan to contribute more than the legislative minimum when they introduce auto enrolment.

More than half of those planning to pay more in believe doing so will help with the recruitment and retention of employees. This approach makes sense as high levels of staff turnover can act as a hidden drain on an employer’s profitability.

Auto-enrolment is a legal obligation and at the end of January, The Pensions Regulator issued 166 businesses with fixed penalties of £400 for non-compliance.


*DWP review the auto-enrolment trigger annually and this figure is subject to change
**Research conducted by BDRC Continental business omnibus between 3rd and 13th March 2014 with SMEs up to and including 250 employees.