Pensions  

SMEs unfazed by AE but still miss staging dates

SMEs unfazed by AE but still miss staging dates

Just 3 per cent of small business owners count auto-enrolment among their biggest concerns, a survey by Now: Pensions has found.

That is despite more than a third of the businesses that have staged since the beginning of the tax year either waiting until the last minute to enrol with a scheme, or missing the deadline altogether.

The survey asked 350 businesses with fewer than 50 employees to cite their biggest concerns for the coming year.

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By far the most popular answer was sales with 34 per cent, with access to capital a distant second at 12 per cent.

The EU referendum, government spending cuts, keeping up with technology and IT took the next four spots, all under 10 per cent.

Auto-enrolment came in seventh place, just ahead of the introduction of the living wage.

Now: Pensions chief executive Morten Nilsson warned businesses not to put off making provisions until the last minute.

“With so many other things to think about it is easy to see how auto-enrolment can slip through the cracks,” he said. “But, the penalties for non-compliance are steep - as much as £500 a day for firms employing 5 to 49 people - so small firms need to give it the attention it deserves.”

Now: Pensions’ findings appeared to contradict a recent survey by insolvency adviser trade body R3, which found auto-enrolment and the EU referendum were the top two concerns for businesses of all sizes.

In this group of 500 businesses, those with between 11-50 employees were the most concerned about auto-enrolment, while micro-businesses with five or fewer employees were the least concerned.

Christopher Daems, director of Cervello Financial Planning and a specialist in advising businesses on pensions, said his experience of the marketplace is split.

He said: “Some employers are concerned, but become far less concerned when they have a plan in place to comply and are taking action. However, there are other employers who are not concerned due to a lack of understanding in the financial implications of not complying.”

He said the industry needed to find better ways of talking directly to the employers who are failing to comply, “and therefore we need to think about strategies which engage these employers”.

The Pensions Regulator hit employers failing in their workplace pension duties with a record number of fines for the first three months of the year, as the smallest firms began to reach their staging dates.

If the current rate of fines being handed out continues, then between now and 2018, pension platform Paycircle calculated an estimated 63,000 small and micro UK employers - roughly 3.5 per cent of those due to auto-enrol - will receive fixed non-compliance fines totalling more than £25m.

james.fernyhough@ft.com