Accountant fined for deliberately providing false information to avoid pension duties

02 November 2018

The accountant of a London cafe has been ordered to pay £6,857.50 after he admitted falsely claiming to The Pensions Regulator (TPR) that staff had been enrolled into pensions.

It is the first time that TPR has prosecuted a third party, working on behalf of an employer, for this offence.

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

TPR launched an investigation and arranged an inspection, but cancelled it when Hashmukh Shah, 63, declared that the company had met its duties. However TPR later discovered that the declaration was false, no staff had been enrolled into a pension scheme and no contributions had been paid.

When interviewed by TPR, Shah, of Richmond, Surrey, admitted purposely misleading the regulator prevented an inspection of the business which would have uncovered the employer’s failure to automatically enrol its staff.

On 15 August Shah pleaded guilty at Brighton Magistrates’ Court to knowingly or recklessly providing false or misleading information to TPR. Deliberately providing false information to TPR about compliance with automatic enrolment duties is an offence under section 80 of the Pensions Act 2004.

On Thursday 1 November, Shah appeared at Brighton Magistrates’ Court where he was fined £3,937.50 and ordered to pay £2,800 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge.

District Judge Teresa Szagun said: “In firefighting, the financial crisis of the company, Mr 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.

TPR’s director of Automatic Enrolment, Darren Ryder, said:

“This case sends a clear warning to accountants and advisers tasked with completing an employers’ automatic enrolment duties - providing TPR 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.”

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