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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!

Missed Your Staging Date for Workplace Pensions? A Case Study

We do seem to have become the ‘go to’ company for companies that have missed their staging date, so I thought it would be useful to run through a recent case study, just I case you’ve missed yours…  


A client, let’s call him Tom, called us a couple of weeks ago and confessed that his staging date was 1st August 2016, and he’d done nothing so far.  He’d contacted a couple of other workplace pension companies but they weren’t interested in helping him because he’d missed his staging date, so he was quite relieved when we said of course we can help.


The first thing we advised Tom to do was call The Pensions Regulator to explain that he had missed his staging date but he was working with us to get his scheme set up in the next few days and put things right.  Doing this will actually reduce the chance of a fine.


Secondly, we needed to obtain payroll reports from Tom showing his employees’ gross earnings since 1st August last year.  His payroll lady emailed the reports over to us the next day and we calculated the backdated employer and employee contributions from last August until the most recent payroll run. We confirmed to Tom that he would be liable to pay all of these backdated contributions, rather than asking employees to pay theirs, but as he only had a couple employees the backdated contributions came to about £150.


We advised Tom about tax relief, postponement and the most cost effective pensionable salary and contribution combination for his business and we set up his scheme with NEST within 3 days of his initial contact with us.  We also spoke to his payroll lady and gave her everything she needed to set the scheme up correctly on her payroll software, and we checked the first set of contributions calculated, just to make sure.


Tom needed to be responsible for uploading weekly pension contributions onto the NEST portal because his payroll lady wouldn’t do this for him, so we did the first contribution upload for him to save time, and then we provided him with training so that he could do this himself going forwards.   We gave Tom guidance on completing his Declaration of Compliance and made sure he did this as soon as his scheme was in place.


So within a matter of days, and very little drama, Tom was compliant and up and running with his pension arrangements.


So if you need help with setting up your workplace pension please get in touch. If you’ve found this article useful please like our Fb page @autoenrolmentbureau and follow us on twitter @aebureau.      

staging date for workplace pensions

Workplace pensions – there’s no need to miss your staging date…!


Recent research by Aviva has shown that one in seven companies who set up pensions with Aviva in the last quarter of 2016 actually missed their deadline, or Staging Date, for setting up a workplace pension.  By my calculations, that means on average around 15% of businesses aren’t complying with their legal duties on time and are very likely to receive a fine from The Pensions Regulator.  This is just money down the drain for a small business, and so easy to avoid if confronted early on.


The Pensions Regulator is sensibly recommending that companies set up their schemes around 6 months in advance of their deadline, which is good advice, because 2017 is by far the busiest year for pension providers, with 750,000 companies being allocated a staging date.  Some providers may have a long waiting list this year, and any delays in setting up your scheme may lead to a failure in meeting your deadline and a subsequent fine – no excuses.


I suspect that companies are leaving their workplace pensions on the ‘to-do’ pile until the last minute, and then they find that choosing and setting up their scheme, if done properly with thought and consideration for a good employee outcome, takes a lot longer than they thought.    


But this doesn’t surprise me – I’m a small business owner myself – and I can certainly sympathise. Small businesses are often stretched to capacity, and it’s likely that the responsibility for workplace pensions will fall on the director or business owner, who tends to be the busiest of the bunch!  This is where professional advisers come into their own, because they’ve done all of the research beforehand, and if they specialise in workplace pensions then their knowledge and experience will be a great timesaver.


So what if you do miss your staging date?  Well, it’s a legal deadline, there’s no getting around it, so there are repercussions for your business.  If you’re within 6 weeks of your staging date then you should issue statutory postponement letters straight away, set up your scheme and enrol your employees within 3 months of staging. 


If your staging date was more than 6 weeks ago then you can’t apply postponement and things get a bit more complicated.  You’ll need to set up your scheme straight away and work out the contributions that should have been paid into the scheme since your staging date, and it’s likely that the company will also have to pay the backdated employee contributions too.  


Towards the end of last year The Pensions Regulator confirmed that there had been a staggering rise in penalties for small businesses for non compliance, with more that 20 times more businesses getting an escalating penalty notice than in earlier quarters.  An escalating penalty notice imposes a daily fine of between £500 and £10,000 a day, so best to be avoided!  


If you’re getting close to your staging date and haven’t had time to sort out your workplace pension, we can turn things round quickly and easily, taking the pressure off you.  We’re here to make sure that you choose a quality scheme and we’ll help you to design your scheme to keep costs and administration to a minimum.


If you need help, please call Sarah or Adele on 0800 160 1233 or fill in the Get Started page on our website and we’ll get back to you straight away.

Auto-Enrolment Myths
I set up the Auto-Enrolment Bureau in 2013, having worked for a large firm of actuaries and pension consultants in Cheltenham for nearly 20 years.  Setting up my own workplace pension business seemed like a very natural transition for me because of my background and qualifications – I believe if you run your own business you need to be the ‘go-to’ expert for your industry.  

The aim of my business is to provide much needed support to other small business owners who are struggling with the complexities and red tape around workplace pensions.   We’ve helped hundreds of Gloucestershire businesses in the last three and a half years – estate agents such as Steve Gooch, country estates such as the Bathurst Estate in Cirencester, butchers, charities, farms and children’s nurseries – businesses from all walks of life are affected.   

Workplace pensions are a legal requirement for businesses large and small, even if you have just one eligible employee, there’s no getting around it!  We’ve come across quite a few myths and misconceptions that may cause businesses to fall foul of the law, so in the interests of businesses around Gloucestershire I would like set the record straight on a few of these…

‘I’ve had a company pension scheme for years – that’ll do won’t it…?’   


Not necessarily.  Workplace pensions have a limit on how much they can charge employees (the ‘Annual Management Charge’) of 0.75%, and many old policies charge more than this, which means they can’t be used for workplace pensions.  And the provider may not allow the policy to be used as a workplace pension.  If it doesn’t meet the workplace pensions ‘qualifying criteria’ then the old scheme, however generous, must be closed down and a new compliant workplace pension scheme must be set up before your deadline.    

‘I’ve checked, and none of my staff are interested in joining a workplace pension, so I’m not setting one up...’   


This could get you into big trouble with The Pensions Regulator!  If you have eligible employees aged between 22 and state pension age who earn over £10,000 a year, then you must enrol them into a workplace pension, whether they like it or not.  And staff who fall outside of these age and earnings criteria have a right to opt into a pension scheme if they want to, unless their earnings are very low.  Once enrolled, employees need to read the pension provider’s welcome pack and it’s only then that an employee can make an informed decision as to whether to opt out of the scheme.  

‘I don’t need to do anything about this until 3 months after my deadline, or Staging Date, because I can postpone enrolment for 3 months, so I’ll worry about it then.’  


We’ve helped many employers who have fallen foul of this one.  If you’re planning to implement postponement for 3 months from your Staging Date it’s a legal requirement that you notify your staff of this by way of a written postponement notice, within 6 weeks of your Staging Date.  If you haven’t issued this legal notice to your staff then you can’t postpone, and contributions are due from your Staging Date onwards.  The sting in the tail is that employer will have to pay not only their own backdated employer contributions but also the employee’s backdated contributions.   

‘I have less than 5 staff, so I’m not affected…’   


This myth comes from the old Stakeholder pension legislation, which hasn’t applied since 2012.  Workplace pensions are the law for businesses with one eligible employee or more.

‘I’m not complying, and nobody will ever know…!’  


Unfortunately, The Pensions Regulator has a direct line to HMRC and they receive regular updates about the employees you pay and how much they earn.  Alarm bells won’t ring at the Regulator’s office until 5 months after your staging date, when they expect to have received your declaration to confirm you’ve set up your scheme.  If a declaration is not sent to the Regulator, this will trigger an investigation.

So what are the repercussions of non-compliance?  A straightforward breach, such as forgetting to complete your declaration of compliance in time, can result in a fine of £400, but if you’ve blatantly ignored the law then the fines are eye-watering, at £500-£1,000 a day for a small business, rising to £10,000 a day for larger businesses.  Swindon Town FC was in the headlines in 2016, having been fined over £20,000 for failing to meet their duties.  

There are quite a few online do-it-yourself pension solutions out there, many of which don’t offer you a choice of pension scheme or publicise their fees and charges until you sign up.  Some pension schemes will charge a set-up fee, others an ongoing fee.  Some schemes are cheap for the employer to set up but have high charges for employees going forwards.  It’s a bit of a minefield.  Business owners must be able to justify their choice of scheme to their employees if challenged, but unless they fully understand what they’re signing up to, then how can they?

Our Bespoke, FastTrack and Simply Conform solutions are tailored to suit any size of business and are aimed at business owners who would rather not do it themselves.  We’re independent of any one pension provider so we can help you to choose the right scheme for your staff and your budget.  And we do it all for you to save you time, ensure compliance, and get the right messages out to your employees.  We can also help out on the payroll side as we run a busy payroll bureau – our pensions knowledge certainly comes in handy here!

If you would like to talk through your circumstances with an auto-enrolment expert, please give us a call on 0800 160 1233 or email .  We’ve got lots of useful information and guidance on our website if you need it:

Missed Your Staging Date?

We’ve had an exceptionally busy week last week, including advising and supporting three companies who had missed their staging dates for auto-enrolment.  So we have a topical blog this week in which I would like to explain the consequences of late compliance.

Every company will have a deadline, or Staging Date, by which they must set up their pension scheme if they have one or more eligible employees.  Even if you have decided to postpone the enrolment of your employees, your scheme must be in place by your deadline, because your employees have a legal right to opt-in to your scheme during the postponement period.   

However, if you’ve missed your Staging Date, what can be done to minimise any regulatory fines and repercussions…?  The answer to this depends upon how much time has passed since your staging date.

If your staging date was within the last six weeks, you are able to implement ‘postponement’.   Postponement means that you can delay the enrolment of your employees into the pension scheme for a maximum of three months, but the critical point here is that you must notify your employees that their enrolment is being postponed within six weeks of your staging date.  This notification is called a ‘statutory postponement letter’, and it must contain specific legal wording, including an explanation that an employee can opt in early if they want to.  You must still set your scheme up straight away.

If your staging date was more than 6 weeks ago, then you can’t apply postponement and your employees’ enrolment date will revert back to your staging date.  The employer will be legally required to pay backdated employer contributions from your staging date until the date that your scheme is up and running, and – here’s the sting – the employer will also need to pay all of the backdated employee contributions too.  The employees are not expected to pay their own backdated contributions.   

So if you’ve missed your staging date, act now!  Get advice from a suitably qualified pensions consultant and set up your scheme without delay.  We can help you to choose and set up a pension scheme within 24 hours if needed.

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:

The law is the law!
Over the past week or so we’ve set up workplace pension schemes for an equine veterinary practice, a hairdresser, an estate agent and a golf club, to name but a few.  Whatever your business type, if you employ someone then chances are you’ll need a workplace pension.    

Next year is a critical year for workplace pensions, with the vast majority of small businesses staging in 2017.  The Pensions Regulator estimates that at least 500,000 businesses will need to set up a workplace pension scheme in 2017 alone, compared to the 300,000 businesses who have staged since 2012.   The clear message is to start planning early because there will be quite a long queue in 2017…!    

The Pensions Regulator has issued its compliance statistics for the last quarter, from April to June 2016.  These statistics actually relate to around 30,000 businesses who staged five months prior to this quarter, when staging numbers were still relatively low.  

The Regulator had to use its powers 4,489 times during the quarter, a sharp increase on previous quarters.  Many of the Regulator’s decisions have been challenged by employers at independent tribunals, but none of the appeals that have ended up in front of a judge have been successful and the companies have been fined accordingly.   In every case the judge rejected the employer’s excuse and ruled that ‘the law is the law’ – no excuses!

What can the Pensions Regulator do if you ignore the law?  Well, they can issue compliance notices (3,392 issued to date) telling you to comply or correct what you’ve done, they can issue fixed penalty notices of £400 (861 issued to date) and they can issue daily ‘escalating’ fines, ranging from £400 per day up to £10,000 per day (38 issued to date, including a high profile football club).  

Non-compliance figures are likely to jump hugely over the coming months as half a million businesses tackle their workplace pension arrangements.  To stay under the Regulator’s radar, get the right advice early on from a local workplace pension specialist like The Auto-Enrolment Bureau.  We offer a fast and straightforward service at a reasonable cost – no business is too small!

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:

Auto-Enrolment - doing it early

We’ve spoken to a number of employers who are keen to get their employees into a workplace pension scheme straight away, rather than waiting for their deadline, or staging date, which is set by The Pensions Regulator. 


Why on earth would anyone want to do this any earlier than they have to?!  Actually, we’ve come across quite a few reasons why…


One of our smaller clients, a car sales company with 11 employees, could ill-afford pay increases, so they decided to introduce their workplace pension scheme early instead of giving pay rises this year. To do so is more tax efficient for the business.  The employees still receive a positive benefit rather than a nil pay increase, and the employer can offset the cost of their contribution against profits, reducing its corporation tax bill.


Pension schemes are a very attractive employee benefit these days, which is why so many businesses have them up and running already.  Candidates are becoming increasingly aware of the perks of each job they apply for. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the best employees because your benefits were less attractive than those of a competitor….


Some businesses have more than one PAYE scheme under the company ‘umbrella’.  Businesses in this position tend to align later staging dates with their earliest staging date to save time and costs. It’s more practical to deal with all of your businesses in one go and, importantly, it’s helps staff morale if they are all treated equally regardless of the PAYE scheme they belong to (especially if staff share office premises).


A larger client of ours wanted to introduce their workplace pension at the beginning of their company year because that’s when they award pay increases.  Aligning your staging date with the start of your financial year can be a cleaner approach from an accounting perspective in terms of setting budgets and calculating pay increases. 


If you want to bring your staging date forward, The Pensions Regulator’s website holds a list of possible brought forward dates you can choose from. Visit for more information.


You’ll need to bear in mind that if you bring your staging date forward, you can’t change it back again – the new date will apply and fines can be imposed if you miss your new deadline. 


As always, getting the right advice at the outset is really important.   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:

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