A healthcare company and its managing director have been fined more than £20,000 after admitting misleading The Pensions Regulator (TPR) and failing to comply with their auto-enrolment duties.
Crest Healthcare and Sheila Aluko each pleaded guilty to one charge of knowingly or recklessly providing false or misleading information to the watchdog, and two counts of willfully failing to comply with their auto-enrolment duties when they appeared at Brighton Magistrates’ Court on 7 March.
A whistleblower prompted the investigation into Crest Healthcare after contacting the regulator to complain workers at the company suspected they had been misled into falsely believing their pension scheme was up and running.
Contributions were being taken from the pay packets of the workers, but the company wouldn’t give them information about their scheme.
This was the first time TPR has prosecuted an employer for knowingly providing false information in relation to auto-enrolment.
At the sentencing hearing yesterday (15 May) at Brighton Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Teresa Szagun said it was important to show individuals and companies did not benefit from avoiding their auto-enrolment responsibilities.
She said Aluko "must, as an intelligent businesswoman, have appreciated the obligations on her and also the intent of automatic enrolment", and said her response to the requests of the whistleblower was "dismissive".
Judge Szagun said: "The need to deter this type of offending requires a penalty proportionate with the seriousness of the offence."
She fined Crest Healthcare for £13,000 and ordered the company to pay £3,404 costs and a £120 victim surcharge.
Aluko was also fined £1,624 and ordered her to pay £3,404 costs and a £120 victim surcharge.
Darren Ryder, TPR’s director of automatic enrolment, said whistleblowers had a vital role to play in helping the regulator ensuring workers are getting the pensions they are entitled to.
He said: "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."
In November TPR secured its first conviction for non-compliance with auto-enrolment after Stotts Tours, a bus company from Manchester, and its managing director, Alan Stott, pleaded guilty to a total of 16 offences after failing to enrol 36 staff into a workplace pension.
Meanwhile yesterday Samuel Smith Old Brewery pleaded guilty to refusing to provide documents to The Pensions Regulator after describing its demands as "tiresome".