Automatic enrolment  

Accountant fined for misleading pensions regulator

Accountant fined for misleading pensions regulator

The accountant of a London cafe has been fined £6,857.50 for falsely claiming to The Pensions Regulator (TPR) that staff had been enrolled into pensions.

The fine marked the first time a third party has been prosecuted for this offence.

The regulator stepped in after Gran Caffe Londra in Knightsbridge, run by Primadell, missed its deadline to automatically enrol staff into a workplace pension in October 2015.

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The Pensions Regulator launched an investigation, but cancelled an inspection when accountant Hashmukh Shah declared the company had met its duties.

As the regulator later discovered the declaration was false, and no staff had been enrolled into a pension scheme and no contributions had been paid.

When interviewed by The Pensions Regulator Shah admitted purposely misleading the regulator had prevented an inspection that would have uncovered the employer's failure to enrol its staff.

He pleaded guilty at Brighton Magistrates' Court on August 15 to knowingly or recklessly providing false or misleading information to The Pensions Regulator.

District Judge Teresa Szagun said: "In firefighting the financial crisis of the company, Shah in fact chose to ignore the individuals who actually, as the casual workforce, were probably the least well off.

"The false information he provided was deliberate and with the knowledge of the risks that involved, including the potential harm it could cause."

She added that Shah was "remorseful and mortified about the error" he had made.

Deliberately providing false information to The Pensions Regulator about compliance with automatic enrolment duties is an offence under section 80 of the Pensions Act 2004.

Shah was today (1 November) fined £3,937.50 and ordered to pay £2,800 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge at Brighton Magistrates' Court.

Darren Ryder, director of automatic enrolment at The Pensions Regulator, said: "This case sends a clear warning to accountants and advisers tasked with completing an employers' automatic enrolment duties - providing The Pensions Regulator with false or misleading information may land you with a criminal conviction and a fine.

"We take very seriously our role to ensure workers get the pensions they deserve and are entitled to by law. We do not look kindly on people whose deception gets in the way of our work."

The regulator stated Gran Caffe Londra eventually became compliant in March 2018 and the company has backdated pension contributions for its staff.

This was the first time The Pensions Regulator has prosecuted a third party, working on behalf of an employer, for this offence although the regulator has stepped up its game on enforcement recent months.

Figures released in September showed the value of fines issued by The Pensions Regulator has more than tripled in a year, reaching £42m in 2017/18, largely due to its crackdown on auto-enrolment failings.

carmen.reichman@ft.com