The Pensions Regulator was only able to collect £8.9m, or 13 per cent, of the £68.6m in penalties issued during 2018-19 under auto-enrolment.
According to its annual report and accounts, published yesterday (July 18), there was a 37 per cent increase in fines issued to employers for not complying with their duties in this area, amounting to 49,032 penalty notices.
The regulator had not been able to collect £20.1m in fines but stated it had "proactively sought payment of any outstanding penalties" and this work would continue.
From the total of £68.6m in fines TPR decided to not pursue £9.2m, as some of these penalties were written off and others were considered to be in remission.
Write-offs are debts that are considered to be irrecoverable because there is no practical way for pursuing them, while debt remission is where the watchdog decides not to pursue it on the grounds of value for money – as it would cost more than the value of the penalty, or is not the most efficient use of limited resources.
TPR also discharged debt to the tune of £30.4m. This happens when the regulator amends or cancels a debt, as further information is received which reduces the liability or confirms that it is not legally due.
Some discharged debt will result in new penalty notices which are included in the £68.6m total.
The watchdog finished the 2018-19 fiscal year with a debt balance of £42.9m – it already had £23.5m in uncollected debts from previous years - which reflected "the significant increase in the number of penalty notices issued," it stated.
This was in line with the large number of employers hitting their auto-enrolment staging date – the final deadline to enrol their workers in a workplace pension scheme - during this period, TPR said.
From the £8.9m collected, TPR transferred £5.9m to HM Treasury’s consolidated fund via the Department for Work and Pensions during the year.
The regulator also collected £180,000 in penalties issued in other areas of its remit, such as schemes failing to provide a statement from their boards of trustees. Of this, £176,000 was transferred to Treasury.
On master trusts authorisation, TPR received £1.27m in fees, from which £1.23 was transferred to the government.
The DWP then provides the funds required for TPR to deliver this programme as part of its overall grant-in-aid.
The regulator’s annual report also revealed that the use of frontline powers jumped a third (32 per cent), while the number of cases it took on increased by a quarter (24 per cent) to 164,437 in 2018-19.
Charles Counsell, TPR’s new chief executive, noted that the regulator’s new ways of working "ensure we have better oversight of those we regulate, improved identification of risks and a sharper focus on how best to use our powers".
He added: "In the past 12 months we have used our new approaches to address, deter and punish inappropriate and dishonest activity.