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The AE Fast-Track Blog


Our latest Blogs about Auto-Enrolment

Woman of the Year Awards 2017 Winners

We had a fantastic start to June!  I’m very proud to say that the Auto-Enrolment Bureau won ‘Business of the Year’ at the 2017 Gloucestershire Women of the Year Awards.  We were up against some amazing local companies, so it was a genuine surprise and a real honour to win this award.  Many congratulations to all of the award winners and finalists – all women with amazing businesses.  


My journey from the company’s inception in 2013 up to now has been hugely enjoyable and I’ve loved every minute.  Setting up your own business equates to throwing yourself in at the commercial deep end - the challenges and demands of your business will take you well and truly out of your comfort zone but, ultimately, this gives you a huge amount of confidence in all aspects of life that perhaps you didn’t have before.


Having worked for a local actuarial and pension consultancy for nearly 20 years, I was more than ready for a change.  The more I learned about workplace pensions, the more I realised that small businesses would struggle to become the pension experts that the Government expected them to be, and they might appreciate a little help.


So the Auto-Enrolment Bureau was created, and our first job was to service a handful of payrolls from a local accountancy practice.  The payroll bureau has since become the backbone of the business, and we have some wonderfully appreciative and loyal clients who have been with us from the start.  We employed our first payroll manager very early on so that I could focus on developing the pension side of the business, and then later on we needed further support on the pension side.  Employing the right staff has been key to the success of the business.


I found that I loved networking, and this was a great way to spread the word about workplace pensions. The referral network we’ve created across Gloucestershire and the UK provides us with the vast majority of our clients today – there’s nothing like a positive introduction from someone who knows both parties.


Since 2013 we’ve helped hundreds of businesses across Gloucestershire and the UK to choose and set up their workplace pensions.  For some of our clients, the ongoing pensions administration through payroll was too much for them, and so they’ve passed their payroll work to us too.  Pensions and payroll now go hand in hand, so our knowledge of both has been of huge benefit on the payroll side.


Looking forwards, the workplace pension ‘capacity crunch’ will slow down later this year, although new businesses will still need help and advice, and in readiness for this we’re focusing a little more on our payroll and ongoing pension support services.  We’re very proud of our payroll track record and our aim is to be the most proactive and tech smart payroll bureau in Gloucestershire!

How to Choose a Great Payroll Provider

If you’re currently running your payroll in-house but have decided to outsource, or you’re thinking of changing your payroll administrator, how can you identify a good payroll provider?  Payroll is too important to chop and change too often, and of course you want to move to something better than you’ve already got!


There are some key areas you can consider before making your move, over and above just the cost.  Receiving a good service is top of most people’s wish list, but how do you define a good service, or even a great service?


A good payroll bureau will have experienced staff, who you can speak to at any time of the day with your queries.  They should have sufficient knowledge to be able to answer your questions about statutory pay issues, notice and holiday pay, tax and national insurance issues.  A great payroll bureau will be proactive in keeping you informed about important changes, such as how to payroll benefits in kind and reminding you about national living wage changes if you pay staff minimum wages, and they will have extensive knowledge about workplace pensions.


A good payroll bureau will input the wage information you give them correctly, but a great payroll bureau will look at what’s in front of them and question it if looks odd or unexpected, because you don’t always get things right.  A great payroll bureau will turn your payroll around the same day if they can.


A good payroll bureau will provide you with their standard suite of payroll reports and they will offer you e-Payslips, which are payslips that your staff can access online.  A great payroll bureau will be able to produce bespoke reports in whatever format you want them in, including reports to your company year end for your accountant.


Technology comes into its own if you have a larger or more complicated payroll.  A good payroll bureau will ask you to send in a wage collection spreadsheet each month and will input the figures manually.  A great payroll bureau will vet the complex data each month and when they’re happy with it they’ll covert it into an import file that can be directly uploaded onto their software, reducing the risk of manual input.


All payroll bureaux should be aware of Data Protection issues and must ensure that payroll reports sent to you are securely password protected.


I’m proud to say that the Auto-Enrolment Bureau is a great payroll provider, and our aim in life is to make payroll easy for you, so please do get in touch if you’d like to make a change for the better!



Statutory Maternity Leave – who is entitled and how does this affect payroll and pensions?

The UK’s Statutory Maternity Pay policy has been under fire from the TUC recently, saying the UK underpays maternity leavers in terms of weekly pay, but if you look at the SMP package as a whole, the UK offers much more than most other countries in Europe, and far in excess of the EU directive.

So what do we offer in terms of SMP?

In terms of leave entitlement, eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave.  The first 26 weeks of this leave is known as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’, the last 26 weeks as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’.  The earliest that leave can be taken is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth, unless the baby is born early, and employees must take at least 2 weeks after the birth (or 4 weeks if they’re a factory worker).


Then in terms of pay, SMP for eligible employees can be paid for up to 39 weeks.  For the first 6 weeks pay is based upon 90% of their average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax, and the remaining 33 weeks is paid at £140.98 per week, or 90% of their AWE (whichever is lower).  To calculate AWE, you need to take an average of the employee’s gross earnings over a period of eight weeks up to and including the last payday before the end of the employee’s qualifying week. The qualifying week is the 15th week before the week the baby is due. 

Tax and National Insurance need to be deducted from their pay as usual.  As a small employer, you can claim back 103% of the maternity pay, or as a large employer who pays more than £45,000 a year in Class 1 NI, you can claim back 92% of the SMP paid.

Not everyone is eligible for SMP – there are some qualifying criteria.  Your employee must have been on the payroll in the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth, they must have given you the correct notice and have worked for you continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the first day in the qualifying 15th week.  Finally, they must earn at least £113 a week in the 8 week period over which AWE are calculated.

In terms of notice, an employee must tell their employer that they are expecting a baby at least 15 weeks before the baby is due.  The employee should also confirm what date they want their maternity leave to start – this can be moved but the employee should give 28 days notice before leave starts.  The employer should then confirm their Statutory Maternity Leave start and end dates and the SMP due, in writing, within 28 days of notice being given.  Employees can change their return to work date if they give 8 weeks’ notice.


If the employee isn’t eligible for SMP, then you must give them a Form SMP1 and explain why they are not eligible.  

SMP and pension contributions can be a tricky one because your payroll software might not work out the correct employer pension contributions, so you might need to over-ride the software!  Under employment law, an employer should continue to pay the same employer contributions that they were paying prior to employee going on maternity leave, so contributions must continue at their current level, even though the employee’s income has dropped, but the employee will pay contributions based upon the SMP she’s actually receiving, so her actual income.


However, once SMP stops after 39 weeks and the employee is not receiving any pay at all, both employee and employer contributions can stop (although they don’t have to).  The employee will remain an active member of the pension scheme, however, because contributions are just suspended.  Once the employee returns to work and pay recommences, pension contributions will start once again.

If you currently run your own payroll in house, or if you’re an accountant or book-keeper who would like to outsource your payrolls to a professional payroll and pensions bureau so that you can focus on your core business, then we would love to help – please do get in touch on 0800 160 1233 or email


Key changes for the new 2017/18 Tax Year

The new tax year is coming up very soon, so today I wanted to highlight the changes that employers need to know about which will apply from 6th April 2017.


We’ll start with an easy one:  the Personal Tax Allowance is increasing from £11,000 to £11,500 a year, so if you’re a director paying yourself just under the tax threshold then you can increase your pay to £958 a month from April.  If you pay yourself just under the National Insurance threshold then your pay can increase up to £680 per month.


The Apprenticeship Levy starts this year.  This levy is being introduced to help young people get into apprenticeship schemes. The new levy will only apply to companies that have a wage bill of over £3 million per annum, and the levy will be based upon 0.5% of your wage bill, although there will be an allowance of £15,000 for all employers, which means the levy will actually be 0.5% of your wage bill less £15,000.


New gender pay gap regulations are coming into force, and companies employing more than 250 people must publish the details of their gender pay gap by April 2018 using data from the 2016/17 tax year.  The report will need to include median and mean information relating to employee pay and bonus pay, together with details of the number of men and women in each quartile of the organisation’s pay distribution.  I’m sure the results will make interesting reading! 


Benefits in Kind can now be payrolled, including company cars, so instead of completing individual P11Ds for each benefit in kind, they can be put through the payroll instead and taxed accordingly each month.  A P11d(b) form must still be submitted to HMRC though – this will report the total Class 1A NI contributions due on benefits in kind.  If you want to start payrolling your benefits in kind then you must declare this online to HMRC before 6th April and provide the relevant information to your payroll administrator, otherwise you’ll need to wait until next year.


From April 2018 it will be compulsory to put Benefits in Kind through the payroll, and you must apply to HMRC to do this before 6th April 2018, so it’s probably worth starting a year early and getting used to the process before next year.  


The National Living Wage for those aged 25 and over is increasing to £7.50 per hour, and the National Minimum Wage will increase from April 2017 as follows:


£6.95 to £7.05 per hour for those aged 21-24

£5.55 to £5.60 per hour for those aged 18-20

£4.00 to £4.05 per hour for those aged 16-17

£3.40 to £3.50 per hour for apprentices aged under 19, or over 19 but in their first year of apprenticeship.  Apprentices in their 2nd or 3rd year must be paid at the rate applicable for their age.


If any of your employees are on, or close to, the current minimum wage, you’ll need to increase their hourly rate from 1 April 2017.  If April’s payroll run includes hours worked in both March and April then you’ll need to record hours worked at each rate.


Statutory payments are also increasing this year.  Statutory Sick Pay is increasing to £89.35 per week and Statutory Maternity Pay is going up to £140.98 per week.   


If we’re already running your payroll then we will already have been in touch with you about these changes because we’re proactive in ensuring that our clients pay the right wages to their staff, so you don’t have to worry.  If you would like to outsource your payroll to our proactive team of payroll professionals, please get in touch on 0800 160 1233!        

Will you get a visit from The Pensions Regulator?

6 top tips on how to ensure you have complied with workplace pensions, when the pension regulator contacts you. 

As part of their ongoing enforcement activity, The Pensions Regulator announced yesterday that spot checks will be carried out on employers across the UK to make sure they’re complying with their workplace pensions duties.  The Regulator plans to visit businesses from a range of industry sectors, including those who they’ve identified as being more at risk of failing to meet their duties, such as the hospitality and retail sectors.  If you’re selected for a visit, you’ll be given a short period of notice before the inspection. 


During the spot checks the Regulator will investigate any non-compliance, help employers get back on track or take enforcement action where necessary.  The Regulator has made it clear that deliberate non compliance won’t be tolerated.


So if the Regulator comes calling, what can you do to ensure you’ve complied?  Here are a few quick pointers:-

  1. Firstly, make sure you choose a qualifying pension scheme that meets all of the legal requirements of a workplace pension.
  2. Set up your workplace pension before your staging date, even if you’re planning to use postponement.
  3. Make sure you send the correct statutory postponement letters, enrolment letters and non-qualifying letters to your staff within the legal timescales. 
  4. Check pension contributions really carefully the first time they’re calculated by your payroll software – check that the tax relief basis, the pensionable salary basis and the contribution rates are in line with what you’ve agreed with your pension provider, and pay these pension contributions to your pension provider on time, before the 19th of the following month.
  5. Not many people are aware of Scheme Certification, which is a requirement if you’ve chosen a pensionable salary definition of Basic Salary, Total Earnings or a Basic Salary with an underpin.  You’ll need to set up your Certificate at staging and re-certify every 12 to 18 months.
  6. Finally, keep records about your staff’s assessments, contributions and eligibility each pay period, for at least 6 years, and keep information about your pension provider and scheme design.



If you’re worried about compliance and want to get it right, please get in touch, and if you’ve found this video useful please like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

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:

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