There be dragons in the land of pensions

17 September 2015

Bill Longe

Next month will see The Pensions Regulator launch a TV campaign to encourage small employers to comply with their auto-enrolment obligations. To date the very successful ‘We’re all in it’ campaign has been run by the Department for Work and Pensions and included the Dragon’s Den Star Theo Paphitis. This latest campaign by The Pensions Regulator, the first time this watchdog body has used television in this way, suggests a move away from the softer message of Theo, and perhaps the emergence of a newer fire breathing dragon.

In October, auto-enrolment - the requirement for employers to provide a qualifying workplace pension to their workers - will have been a part of the employer-employee landscape for three years. To date the UK’s largest employers have been required to register, and 46,000 have been done so with over five million employees now covered by a workplace pension. Whilst these numbers are impressive they are dwarfed by the truly staggering 1.8 million small employers who will have to register between now and 2017.

The Regulator confirmed the new campaign is going to focus on small businesses and will include a revamp of the auto-enrolment website to provide more helpful support to such employers. Whilst it is pleasing to see the Regulator has announced a new approach is required for small employers, it did not escape the notice of many insiders that there is concern within the Government that many small employers will choose to ignore their obligations. Speaking at a recent conference The Pensions Regulator (TPR) head of industry liaison Neil Esslemont made this comment ‘If you talk about why someone might not comply, it might be because they don’t think it applies to them, so we are trying to address that point. It might be because they think they will get away with it, so our message will try to incorporate ‘yes, the duty does apply to you and we know who you are and you could get fined if you don’t adhere to it’.

The threat of fines does suggest the Government has recognised it will be no easy task to get so many small employers on board, and perhaps it is time to introduce a more fearsome dragon onto the scene. After all, it is one thing to see a friendly dragon on the TV and quite another to meet one brandishing all manner of fines.