The Pensions Regulator is beginning to flex its full powers concerning auto enrolment compliance following the news it has launched a landmark prosecution against Stott Tours (Oldham).
The company in question is accused of failing to comply with the law on automatic enrollment and its managing director is accused of consenting or conniving in the company's offence or allowing it to be committed by neglect. These offences have been brought under section 45 of the Pensions Act 2008 and this is the first time that The Pensions Regulator has launched a prosecution for these offences.
Pensions expert Tom Barton of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said the prosecution marked a new stage in the evolution of automatic enrolment.
Barton said: "There have been plenty of fines dished out for non-compliance with auto-enrolment legislation. These have generally resulted from procedural errors and oversights including the not-very-good excuse of running out of time. But the use of powers under section 45 is something new. Here we have an employer apparently engaging in intentional non-compliance, which is a serious business."
"The policy makers have decided that workers are entitled to contributory pensions and it's as simple as that. If employers want to get in the way of that policy intention then, ultimately, we're not just talking about fines, we're potentially talking about a spell behind bars," Barton said.
Although it represents the first prosecution for these offences, the regulator has previously issued many fines to companies that have not complied with auto enrolment requirements. In the period April to June 2017, the regular issued 4794 fixed penalty notices of £400 each to employers who were failing to meet their auto enrolment obligations.
Auto-enrolment offences can be tried in a crown court or in a magistrates' court. In a crown court, the maximum sentence is two years imprisonment. In a magistrates' court, the maximum sentence is an unlimited fine. This case will be hard at Brighton Magistrates Court on 4 October.