The Pensions Regulator has warned it will take legal action against businesses that persistently fail to comply with auto-enrolment rules.
TPR said "a small number" of employers had already been handed County Court Judgements (CCJs) after failing to pay their automatic enrolment fines
The regulator pointed out that CCJs - court orders specifically for individuals and businesses that fail to pay money owed - are permanently listed on the subject's credit ratings.
The warning came as the number of small businesses missing their "staging date" continued to soar.
In the last quarter of 2016, 6,296 employers were issued compliance notices, bringing the total number of compliance notices issued since 2012 to 31,680.
In the same period, 919 employers were handed £400 fixed penalty notices, bringing the total since 2012 to 9,831. A further 870 escalating penalty notices were issued in the period, bringing the total to 1,477.
TPR warned that employers that persistently ignore penalty notices were in danger of being handed CCJ judgments.
If the money owed is not then paid within 30 days, employers will have it entered on their credit record.
TPR gave the example of a South London removals firm that took nearly two years to comply with its automatic enrolment duties, despite receiving two fixed penalty notices and an escalating penalty notice.
The employer only complied when it was handed the CCJ.
Charles Counsell, executive director of automatic enrolment said: "A CCJ goes onto an employer’s credit record and remains there for six years, seriously affecting their ability to borrow money for their business in the future.
"Burying your head in the sand and ignoring your legal duties means your staff are missing out on pensions they are entitled to and your credit rating and reputation could be hit."
TPR highlighted the hospitality sector as particularly at risk of non-compliance. It stated this was in part because a large number of employees in the sector were on non-standard contracts.
TPR added that in most cases the "nudge" of a compliance notice was enough to get businesses to comply.
Mr Counsell added: “Our message to small and micro employers has always been to ensure they leave enough time and be clear about what they will need to do to comply. We are here to help – but we will take action if an employer is wilfully non-compliant."
While the 6,296 non-compliant employers in Q4 2016 was historically high, it represented an improvement on the third quarter, when more than twice as many compliance notices - 15,073 - were issued.