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The AE Fast-Track Blog


Our latest Blogs about Auto-Enrolment

Workplace pensions – competition from Lifetime ISAs?

Whether you’re a fast-growing business, or one that’s been around for donkey’s years, if you have one or more eligible employees paid through a PAYE scheme then you’ll need a workplace pension.  If your business has been set up since April 2012, then the deadline for setting up your pension scheme will be some time after May 2017, but if your business was established before April 2012 your staging date will be within the next 12 months..!  If you haven’t thought about it yet, now is the time to start planning.


There’s been much talk recently about the new Lifetime ISAs, or ‘LISAs’, which the Government plans to introduce from April 2017.  LISAs can only be set up for individuals aged under 40 and their main purpose is to provide a tax efficient savings fund with which to buy your first property.  Each year, up to age 50, you can pay up to £4,000 into a LISA and, for each £4 paid in, you’ll receive a £1 bonus from the Government.  You can draw on the fund tax-free before age 60 to purchase a first property costing no more than £450,000.


Many in the pensions world are wondering why the Government is introducing the LISA whilst auto-enrolment is in full swing – will employees opt out of their pension scheme and set up a LISA instead?   I, for one, doubt it.  A workplace pension and a LISA are very different beasts and there is clearly a demand for both.  People will naturally have different savings priorities over their lifetime.  


A quick comparison of each form of saving reveals that, based on the same employee contribution, a workplace pension will provide you with a higher income to draw down on in later life, even accounting for the fact that some of your pension income is taxable, whereas LISA income is tax free.  This is largely because of the compulsory employer contribution required for a workplace pension and the tax relief that you receive on your own contribution. 


Of course, you won’t be able to access your pension until you reach age 55, so youngsters must approach pension saving as a long term commitment.  But if you decide not to use your LISA for a property purchase and want to cash it in, there is an expensive 5% penalty charge to pay and you’ll lose the 25% bonus you’ve received from the Government.  So pro’s and cons of each.  


Workplace pensions and LISAs should co-exist quite happily as long as employees are well informed and make the right choice for them.


Getting the right advice about workplace pensions is important for employers and employees alike.   If you would like to talk through your circumstances with an auto-enrolment expert, please give us a call on 0800 160 1233.  We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:

Workplace Pensions – a big responsibility for small businesses

When a business owner or director gets around to dealing with their workplace pension, it can be difficult to know where to start and who to turn to for help.  Many people I’ve spoken to have been putting things off, and then panic ensues and it’s a rush job….  


If this touches a nerve with you as an owner or director of a small business, my advice is ‘don’t leave it until the last minute!’ because choosing, designing and setting up your pension scheme is something that shouldn’t be rushed – give yourself 6 months to put your scheme in place.  The choices that you make about your workplace pension scheme should be informed, researched and understood – it’s your business, and it’s your responsibility to do the right thing for your company and for your employees.  If you choose your scheme wisely you can avoid ongoing employer charges, and your employees will enjoy lower annual management charges which could make a difference of several thousand pounds to each employee’s pension fund when they come to retire. There’s also the very real risk of a smaller pension provider going belly-up.  The decisions you make now will directly influence the quality of life your staff can enjoy in their later years – that’s a big responsibility to take on yourself, so getting good advice and the right support can provide the reassurance you need that you’ve done the best you can.


Our typical client wants to get compliant quickly and cost-effectively, through a well-established, safe and secure scheme which performs well.  And help with HR is also useful – you’ll need to update your employment contracts, provide a pension policy for new employees and let your existing employees know what’s going on.  If you run an in-house payroll, then you’ll most definitely need guidance around payroll administration too. 


Our AE FastTrack service covers all of these important issues for you.  Because we’re pensions people, we understand better than most the importance of scheme choice and design.  Most people we meet want to do the right thing for their employees and they understand that there’s a bit more to it than simply filling in an application form.


We’ve set up workplace pension schemes for hundreds of businesses to date, and our aim is to make life easier for those facing the challenges of auto-enrolment.  If you would like to talk through your circumstances, please give our friendly and experienced team a call on 0800 160 1233.  We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:



Employing your spouse? You are still an employer

I met a lovely chap this week, he was a doctor and I had met with him to talk about a workplace pension for his team of medical secretaries.

Whilst we were chatting, he mentioned that he, like many other GPs and consultants, employed his wife as an administrator.  His accountant had advised him that this would be beneficial for tax purposes.  What he hadn’t realised, was that because he paid his wife more than £10,000 a year, he would also need to set up a workplace pension for her.

As this arrangement had been in place for sometime (before April 2012), his Staging Date, the date by which he has to set up a pension scheme, could be anywhere between 1 June last year and 1 April 2017, depending on his PAYE reference.

This doctor has the same duties to his wife as a traditional business, such as coffee shop  or estate agent, with employees.  He must set up a workplace pension scheme enrol his wife, deduct pension contributions from her pay and pay employer contributions on top of her salary.

If he fails in this duty, then The Pensions Regulator has the power to levy some pretty hefty fines.

Hopefully, I made him aware in time, and his staging date hasn’t yet passed, but I’m still waiting to hear.

Even if his wife earned less than £10,000 a year, he would still need to take some action.  See my earlier blog  “I don’t think any of my staff are eligible for Auto-Enrolment, do I need to do anything?”

If you think you might need to set up a scheme, or would like to talk through your circumstances, please give us a call on 0800 160 1233.  We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:

Who is on the naughty list this Christmas?

The Pensions Regulator recently issued updated statistics on the number of time it had "used its powers" over the last quarter. The number of Compliance Notices issued, where an employer has failed to meet their auto-enrolment duties, has quadrupled compared to the previous quarter with 469 compared to 119.


There has been a 70% increase in the number of notices issued, where employers have either paid contributions late, or not at all, and a 50% increase in the number of fines issued.


Some of the excuses are along the "my dog ate my homework" line, with one employer disputing a notice on the grounds he never received it, even though The Pensions Regulator has a telephone recording of him acknowledging receipt!


The majority of non-compliance has been unintentional on the employer’s part, with business owners perhaps putting off the job of sorting their workplace pension until the last minute. This is the theme of The Pensions Regulator’s latest awareness campaign, with Workie, the big fluffy workplace pension, who most definitely shouldn’t be ignored.


Since the introduction of auto-enrolment in 2012, more than 60,000 employers have been affected by the new workplace pensions legislation. Most employers so far have completed their duties on time but with 500,000 businesses due to reach their staging date over the next 12 months, the number of compliance notices and fines is expected to rise.


There is some good news in The Pensions Regulator’s latest bulletin though. 9 out of 10 employers staging over the next few months had begun to prepare already. Levels of awareness and understanding of the issues around workplace pensions within small businesses has also significantly improved.



If you think you might need to set up a scheme, or would like to talk through your circumstances, please give us a call on 0800 160 1233. We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:

All my staff want to opt out...

This is a phrase I have heard a few times lately. I’m no psychologist, so I don’t know if this is wishful thinking on the part of an employer who doesn’t want to set up a pension scheme and pay into it, or if employees really don’t want to save for their retirement, for whatever reason that may be. 


The way auto-enrolment has been devised is that it works on apathy – eligible employees are enrolled into a pension automatically (hence the name!) and must make a conscious decision and take action themselves if the don’t want to be in. This is why the opt-out rate is so low at between 8%-14%.


‘Bob’ is an employer and he is convinced that all his employees want to opt out. Bob says that he doesn’t trust pensions and none of his employees will be able to afford to pay in anyway.


Unfortunately for Bob, he still has to meet all his duties as an employer and set up a pension scheme by his staging date. He must enrol his eligible staff and pay contributions. 


The first set of contributions must be deducted and paid to the pension provider. On receipt of these contributions the provider will send out membership information directly to the employees. 


The only way an employee can opt out of the pension scheme is by contacting the pension provider once thy have received their joining pack. 


Employees can’t ask Bob to opt them out of the scheme. They can’t opt out before they’ve joined the scheme either.


If an employee opts out within the first month, their membership is undone and they will receive a refund. If they ask to leave the scheme after this time they won’t receive a refund and their contributions will need to stay in the scheme until they retire.


Bob must not encourage his staff to opt out or tell potential new employees that they will have a better chance at getting the job if they opt out of the scheme. The penalty for this behaviour is a hefty fine from The Pensions Regulator.


There’s no getting away from it, if you have employees who earn over £833 a month and are aged between 22 and state pension age, you WILL have to set up a pension scheme. If your employees earn less than this or are outside the age range, read our blog here to understand what duties might still apply to you.


If you think you might need to set up a scheme, or would like to talk through your circumstances, please give us a call on 0800 160 1233. We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:

Should I DIY Auto-enrolment?

The Pensions Regulator has relaunched their website to make it more accessible and relevant to small businesses.  As more and more businesses are staging, many of them will chose a DIY route.  It may seem a cheap way of meeting your duties, but is it really worth it? 

DIY Auto-Enrolment

It’s cheaper*

You will need to research auto-enrolment.  How does it affect you? When do you need to do it by? What do all these new terms mean? How much will it cost you?

You will need to pick a scheme – research the market, choose a provider and product.

You will need to design the scheme, choosing  pay reference periods, setting a  postponement policy and contribution basis.

You will need to set up the scheme with the provider and provide your payroll administrator with the details so that they can set it up on the payroll.

You will need to tell your staff that you have set up a scheme and explain how it will affect them in terms of cost, timing, postponement and benefits.

If you run your own payroll, you will need to assess your staff at your staging date, and every pay reference period after that.

You will need to issue statutory communications not just at staging, but for every payroll run thereafter, where there’s a change to someone’s AE status.

You will need to calculate contributions, notify the pension provider of those contributions, deal with opt ins, opt outs and refunds.

You will need to keep records of the scheme you have set up and the assessment details each payroll.

You will need to submit your declaration of compliance to The Pensions Regulator

*How much is your time worth?  Will your scheme be easy to administer?  Are you handling joiners and leavers correctly?  Have you chosen the most cost-effective contribution basis?  Is your scheme good value for money?  How safe is the pension scheme?

Auto-Enrolment supported by us

Auto-enrolment jargon is clarified - our qualified auto-enrolment experts will explain everything in plain English.

You’ll get expert advice to make sure that every aspect of your scheme design fits your business needs.  Choosing the right design can keep costs down for you and your employees.  

We’ll explain all of the technical stuff - how you can use pay reference periods and postponement to make the admin easier and, potentially, cheaper.  We’ll make sure that you get tax relief right.

We’ve done the market research, so we know which schemes are suitable, which ones charge a monthly fee to small companies, and which ones only accept large companies or monthly payrolls.  We also know which ones require minimum contributions or charge extra for fund switches. 

If you use our AE FastTrack service, we will explain why we are happy to recommend The People’s Pension, a scheme we have chosen based on its merits (see blog post).  If you use our Bespoke service, we’ll carry out a full market review of pension schemes to help you choose one.

We’ll set up the scheme for you and provide a document that tells your payroll administrator all they need to know, and it covers your record-keeping requirements for scheme records.

We’ll sort out your HR issues and employee communications for you, providing you with a Pension Policy for employment contracts and a decent employee announcement letter.   

If you choose to outsource your payroll to us, we’ll do all the admin after staging – employee communications, contributions, data uploads, record keeping and declaration of compliance.     

We’ve heard from small businesses who have come to us after they tried to do it themselves, and it’s often not a happy tale.  As these business owners haven’t had the support they needed early on in the process, they often miss important deadlines, or set up a scheme that is complicated to administer through the payroll.

 If auto-enrolment isn’t done right at the very beginning it can cost you dearly in time and expense in the long term.

There are lots of things you can DIY but, like plumbing or electrics, it is really worth getting the experts in for auto-enrolment!

If you think you might need to set up a scheme, or would like to talk through your circumstances, please give us a call on 0800 160 1233.  We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:

I don’t think any of my staff are eligible for Auto-Enrolment, do I need to do anything?

If you have one or more employees, you will need to assess their age and earnings every payroll run from your staging date (and keep a record of this) and categorise them as Eligible Jobholders, Non-Eligible Jobholders or Entitled Workers.


  • An Eligible Jobholder is aged between 22 and State Pension Age, earning over £10,000 a year.  They must be automatically enrolled.


  • A Non- Eligible Jobholder is aged between 16 and 22, or State Pension Age and 75, OR, a Non-Eligible Jobholder may earn between £5,824 and £10,000 a year.  They can opt-in to your workplace pension scheme.


  • An Entitled Worker earns below £5,824 a year.  They won’t be enrolled and they can’t opt into your workplace pension, but they can pay their own contributions into a scheme.


  • You do not have any pension duties for employees outside of the 16-75 age range



If you don’t have any eligible jobholders, you may still have to jump through some auto-enrolment hoops to keep The Pensions Regulator happy…

If you only employ non-eligible jobholders and/or entitled workers, you will still need to send statutory letters to your employees at your staging date to let them know how auto-enrolment affects them and what action they can and can’t take. This is a legal requirement and you need to keep a formal record of the letters you send and when you sent them.   Non-eligible jobholders have the right to opt-in to your scheme, even if you haven’t set one up yet, and you will need to start paying contributions for them.  If they do opt-in, you’ll have to move pretty quickly to set up a scheme within six weeks!   


 If you’re sure that your non-eligible jobholders don’t want to opt-in to your pension scheme, then there is no requirement for an employer to have a scheme in place (but you mustn’t discourage them from opting in).  Having said that, it’s a good idea to set up a pension scheme if you suspect that a non-eligible jobholder is likely to opt-in, or if they might become an eligible jobholder in the near future, so that you don’t have to rush into it later.  


Don’t forget your Declaration!

All employers will need to declare their compliance with The Pensions Regulator within five months of their staging date, whether or not you’ve had to set up a scheme.  Don’t forget to do this, otherwise you’ll be liable to a £400 fine from The Pensions Regulator.


The declaration can’t be completed prior to your staging date, and it must be completed online via The Pensions Regulator’s website:-

If you think you might need to set up a scheme, or would like to talk through your circumstances, please give us a call on 0800 160 1233.  We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:


I’m a Director, do I need to be Auto-Enrolled?

The rules for directors are complicated, it depends on your circumstances.  We’ve put together these handy hints to point you in the right direction.

Are you the sole director of a limited company?

If you are the only director and do not have any employees, you do not need to set up a pension scheme or be auto-enrolled yourself.   

Do you have a contract of employment?

As a joint director, if you do not have a contract of employment (written or verbal) with your business then you don’t need to be auto-enrolled.

If you do have a contract of employment, does anyone else in the business?

If the answer is no (for example, there are 3 directors only and only you have a contract of employment) then you don’t need to be auto-enrolled.

If you have a contract and there is at least one other person who has a contract of employment (director or employee), then you may need to set up a scheme and be auto-enrolled.  This will depend on your earnings and age.

It gets a bit more complicated if you employ contractors (Personal Service Workers), there’s a useful video from The Pensions Regulator, which also covers directors, here:

What to do next

If you have determined that you do not have any auto-enrolment duties, you need to tell The Pensions Regulator that you are not an employer before your Staging Date.

You will need your Letter Code and PAYE reference.  Your Letter Code can be found on any correspondence with The Pensions Regulator.

If you think you might need to set up a scheme, or would like to talk through your circumstances, please give us a call on 0800 160 1233.  We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:

Article in SW Business News
Nice article in the South West Business News today about our new AE FastTrack service!

AE FastTrack Launch

We're very excited to be sending out our first press release...

Pensions and payroll expert Sarah Withers has launched a service called AE FastTrack to tackle the headache of auto-enrolment for the small business community.

Last month the first UK businesses with fewer than 30 employees met staging dates for a legal obligation to enrol their staff into a workplace pension scheme.

During the next three years, the numbers of SMEs meeting their staging dates will grow, reaching a rate of more than 100,000 businesses per month at the end of 2017.

Miss Withers, who brings 20 years of pensions experience to AE FastTrack, says that there is a severe shortage of suitable solutions to meet the needs of small businesses.

“These companies aren’t getting any help,” she said. “Either they can try and do it themselves, wading through the many pages on the Pension Regulator website and struggling to find the support they need to make sense of it all, or they could use an IFA or an accountant, who may not specialise in auto-enrolment and could be an expensive solution.

“What we are offering is a streamlined, cost effective service combining a high quality pension scheme with all the supporting documentation you need for your staff and your business.

“We also offer ongoing support, if needed, with employee assessments and communications, through our specialist auto-enrolment payroll bureau.   Our aim is to reduce the burden of auto-enrolment as much as we can by offering practical help, as well as relevant advice.”

Fines for non-compliance with auto-enrolment start with a ticket from the Pensions Regulator of £400, followed by compound fines which can cost about £500 per day for a small business.

AE FastTrack has partnered with The People’s Pension, an award-winning, UK-based, non-profit organisation which caters for all businesses, large or small. Companies who prefer to carry out a full review of pension providers are able to opt for a bespoke solution rather than the FastTrack service.

She said: “AE FastTrack was set up after meeting small business owners at networking events. The message was pretty clear – they haven’t got time to sit down and look at different pension scheme offerings, decide upon their scheme design and look at contribution modelling reports. They really wanted to fill in a form and get someone to take the headache away.

“We like to keep auto-enrolment simple and easy to understand, and a simple approach means lower costs. It also means that we can act quickly to help those who have left auto-enrolment compliance until the last minute.

“I’ve designed a pension scheme for small businesses which takes decision making out of the equation, making the process really straightforward. I’m proud to promote The People’s Pension scheme as my partner for AE FastTrack, as it’s a market leader in the industry.”

Based in Painswick in Gloucestershire, AE FastTrack is a service from the Auto-Enrolment Bureau, which Miss Withers established in 2013.

A former Associate of Barnett Waddingham, Miss Withers previously managed the pensions administration department at the Cheltenham-based group of actuaries and pensions consultants.

She is a Fellow of the Pensions Management Institute and said that the introduction of auto-enrolment has given her the opportunity to fulfil her dream of running her own business.

“I’ve always wanted to run a successful business,” she said, “but I’ve never found the right niche to specialise in. Now, after 20 years, auto-enrolment has arrived and it’s the perfect business for me.

“With my qualifications in pensions and auto-enrolment, there’s a market for my expertise and it’s a service which every company is going to need. There isn’t enough support out there for small businesses."



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