They hide in plain sight, looking respectable to the outside world but denying their workers their legal rights.
The managers who tell staff that they’ll have their pay cut if they join a pension scheme. The businesses that lie to their employees by falsely claiming that they have been automatically enrolled. The companies that keep quiet about their duties in the hope that their workers won’t notice that they haven’t been given the pensions they’re entitled to.
But we can tackle this tiny group’s behaviour with the help of those closest to them – whistleblowers among their victims.
It was a whistleblower who alerted us to the situation at Birmingham-based Crest Healthcare, whose staff were told that pension contributions were being paid by the employer when, in fact, a scheme hadn’t even been set up.
As a result both the company and its managing director were prosecuted and after pleading guilty have now been ordered to pay a total of more than £20,000 in fines and costs. Both have criminal records, while their staff now have the pensions they had been denied.
The implementation of automatic enrolment has been so successful that there are more than 1.2 million employers who have gone through the process. More than 9.6 million people have gained a workplace pension as a result.
We’re satisfied that the vast majority of employers continue to comply with their duties. They’ve set up workplace pensions for their staff, completed their declaration of compliance and make regular contributions to the workers’ pension pots.
But when you are working with such a large number of employers, it seems inevitable that there will be a small minority who have either failed to do what they should or simply refused to.
Our systems highlight cases of non-compliance for us to investigate but whistleblowers are also vital. They are almost always the victims, so have the most to gain from helping us to make their bosses compliant. Those at the heart of a business may just have suspicions that something isn’t quite right or they may know about a specific problem.
Currently we receive more than 80 reports every week from people who suspect employers are breaking the law on workplace pensions. In the last 12 months those reports have directly led to around 600 employers being investigated for non-compliance.
That may seem small compared to the almost 18,000 employers we issued automatic enrolment compliance notices to in the last three months of 2017 alone, or the 8,800 employers we fined in that period.
But they represent 600 employers whose staff may have been losing out on pensions if we had not stepped in.
Anyone who feels they might want to report something to us can visit our website for more information.
The website sets out in a very easy to use format the information we need from a whistleblower, such as what they think has been done wrong and the details of the employer involved. We’ll support the worker throughout any investigation that may take place following their report, to ensure they do not suffer for doing the right thing.
It may only take a moment of bravery from one person to enable us to shine a light into the murky practices of an employer.
But justice for the offenders will mean that one whistleblower’s actions could give them and many of their colleagues a better financial future.
By Darren Ryder
Director of Automatic Enrolment