Double warning: small businesses and accountants urged to act now

01 October 2014

Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have been warned to check when they must meet new workplace pensions duties.

The call to action from The Pensions Regulator follows research published showing that around 20% of small employers and almost half of micro employers do not know the exact date they need to comply with automatic enrolment laws.

Every employer is given a date set in law when their duties start – this is their staging date. The regulator recommends that employers should start preparing for automatic enrolment 12 months ahead of that date. Employers should first check their staging date by using the staging date tool on The Pension Regulator’s website.

Failure to prepare in good time puts employers at risk of non-compliance and this can ultimately lead to financial penalties.

The employer survey shows that most businesses have sought, or will be seeking help from advisers– and the regulator is now calling on accountants, independent financial advisers (IFAs) and bookkeepers to be ready for the demand. In particular, accountants have been urged to find out what they need to know about automatic enrolment so they are prepared. The message comes in the light of findings from the adviser survey– also published today by the regulator.

While the spring 2014 employer awareness, understanding and activity survey and the corresponding adviser survey contain many positive findings, executive director of automatic enrolment Charles Counsell said that while automatic enrolment continues to go well so far, he warned there is no room for complacency.

He said: "Looking at both reports alongside each other demonstrates the bigger picture: employers must prepare and they will be looking to advisers to help them. It is now vital that advisers use the information on our website so that they have the knowledge their clients are going to need to meet their pension duties. Too many small and micro employers still don’t know when their staging date is. While we write to employers 12 months ahead of that date, it is important for them to check if they need to be ready by next summer– or later. The easiest way to do this is by using the staging date tool on the regulator’s website."

Some key findings from the employer survey:

· Nine in 10 employers staging between October 2014 and April 2015 had commenced preparation to meet their new duties.

· Eight in 10 employers staging between October 2014 and April 2015 had consulted an adviser, with IFAs and pension providers the main types used.

· Consistent with previous waves of the survey, most employers had consulted or planned to consult with an external adviser, ranging from 89% of smaller medium employers to 64% of micro employers.

· Understanding of reforms had increased among all employer sizes.

· Some key findings from the adviser survey:

· There was an almost universal level of awareness of changes in pension law among all adviser groups.

· Accountants and bookkeepers were least likely to have used the regulator's website with 39% and 48% respectively being aware it was a source of information.

· Accountants were significantly less likely to say they are acting, or intend to act on behalf of their clients or provide technical advice than other groups – with 48% offering or planning to offer a service.

· Most intermediary groups also understood the key elements of the reforms with IFAs having the greatest understanding (99%) and accountants having the least understanding (71%).