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Improved pension rights on the right road despite bus court case

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Saving for retirement is a big deal for workers. We all need an income to replace the wage we give up on leaving work. But not all employers are complying with their pension duties.

An Oldham bus operator and its managing director this month became the first firm to be prosecuted for deliberately failing to give their staff pensions. They will be sentenced in December.

The news comes days after the Pensions Regulator revealed that it ordered 753 employers to cough up unpaid pension contributions between July and September this year. That's an increase from 653 the previous quarter. Overall, it used its powers to ensure compliance with automatic enrolment rules in 21,753 cases during the quarter.

Darren Ryder, Director of Automatic Enrolment at the Pensions Regulator said Stotts Tours should have started paying pension contributions in 2015:

"Dozens of staff at the company were entitled to workplace pensions but were denied them because their employer deliberately failed to set them up. Automatic enrolment is not an option, it is the law. Employers should be in no doubt that if they wilfully refuse to become compliant they could end up with a criminal record – and will still have to give their staff the pensions they are due."

Automatic enrolment into workplace pensions started in 2012, and each employer has been given a start date to meet their requirements under the new system:

  • An employer must enrol every worker earning more than £10,000 into a pension scheme.
  • They then have to make a minimum employer contribution to that pension, though they can (and many do) pay in more.
  • The Government also chips in by giving tax relief on a worker’s pension contributions.
  • Workers can opt out of the scheme if they want to.

These requirements have come about from a combination of trade union pressure and the sterling work of the Pensions Commission (including its trade union member) in building a case and a consensus for change.

Before automatic enrolment started, barely a quarter of employees in the private sector were a member of any workplace pension scheme.

8.7 million workers have been enrolled into a pension scheme since the new rules came in.

Thanks to widespread support for the changes among good employers, robust action by the regulator and pressure from unions, the vast majority of bosses are meeting their automatic enrolment duties. Those being tackled by the regulator for non-payment represent barely 0.1% of employers.

Nevertheless, workers have to be alert for employers' attempts to duck their pensions obligations. They should contact their union if they think their employer is:

  • Failing to enrol workers into a pension scheme.
  • Offering incentives to workers to opt out of auto-enrolment.
  • Not meeting the new rules in any other way.
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