Employers that refuse to pay workplace pension fines could have their assets seized to pay their debts, The Pensions Regulator (TPR) announced today (3 May).
The pensions watchdog issues fines to companies that fail to meet their auto-enrolment duties and can secure court orders if the debts are not paid.
Now, TPR is going to appoint High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) to enforce court orders in England and Wales, and the equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland, on those employers that have refused or failed to comply.
If an employer does not pay its debt, the officers can visit the business premises to remove items to sell, to the value of the amount owed. This could include the employer’s vehicles.
Unlike bailiffs, HCEOs have the power to force entry to locked commercial premises to seize assets, the TPR said.
The watchdog also announced that it will consider whether it should prosecute employers that remain non-compliant with their auto-enrolment duties, despite being given a court order demanding they pay the fines they have incurred.
Every three months, TPR publishes the names of employers that it has had to take to court for the non-payment of escalating penalty notices issued for auto-enrolment breaches.
The regulator starts by issuing a fixed penalty notice of £400 to an employer for failure to comply with a statutory notice or some specific employer duties.
An escalating penalty notice - which varies between £50 and £10,000 a day depending on size of the company - is issued after if the employer still hasn’t complied.
TPR issued 7,435 fixed penalty notices and 1,440 escalating penalty notices between October and December 2017.
The total number of employers taken to court by the watchdog for failure to pay these escalating fines is now at 262.
Darren Ryder, TPR’s director of automatic enrolment, argued that auto-enrolment “isn’t an option, it’s the law”.
He said: “Those who break the law by denying their staff the pensions they are entitled to should expect to be punished – and must pay any fines they are given.
“AE has been a huge success thanks to the vast majority of employers who do exactly what they should, but a tiny minority not only ignore their automatic enrolment duties but fail to pay their fines, even after the courts have ordered them to.
“The use of HCEOs is a last resort for us. Unfortunately the behaviour of a tiny minority means it may be necessary.”
The regulator revealed that HCEOs will also be used to collect payment for other fines or levies issued by TPR that trustees or trust managers fail to pay, such as for chair statement and scheme return offences.