Be prepared for when clients ask you about how to assess their staff's eligibility for auto-enrolment.
Recent research from The Pensions Regulator indicates that at least 78% of small businesses will be relying on their business advisers for help and advice. And with the first small and micro employers needing to be ready to provide a pension for their workers by the summer of 2015, you can expect to be approached by your clients soon asking for help to meet their statutory automatic enrolment duties.
Under pensions legislation, employers will need to assess their staff to determine if they are eligible for automatic enrolment. It is essential to do this in order to comply with automatic enrolment duties. This is an area where employers may request assistance from their accountants – especially if the accountant is already providing a payroll bureau service.
Initial checks It is important that accountants do not make assumptions about their clients’ workforce for purposes of auto enrolment. Assessing staff can take some time depending on the size of the business and complexity of the workforce. One of the first tasks, once the staging date is established (preferably using The Pension Regulator’s staging date tool), is to do a ‘quick check’ to ascertain how long a full assessment is likely to take and ensure all the information held about staff is accurate. The Pensions Regulator recommends starting to assess workers several months before the staging date to avoid the risk of non-compliance.
Who is a worker? What accountants will need to do for automatic enrolment will depend on whether the employee is someone the legislation classifies as a ‘worker’. At first glance, accountants may assume that only employees who are paid through the PAYE system are considered workers. However, the definition of a worker under the legislation is widely drawn and it’s important not to accidentally exclude workers from the auto enrolment process as this contravenes automatic enrolment duties.
When determining who is a worker, employers and accountants should be aware that:
a contractual employment relationship does not have to be in writing. To fall within the scope of ‘worker’ the contract can be verbal and the terms implied rather than explicitly stated
temporary and part time staff will fall into the category of a worker. In addition, depending on the contractual terms, workers may be those on zero hour contracts and secondees
another category of worker is a ‘personal services worker’. Typically, these may appear to be self-employed; however, in certain circumstances they are actually classified as a worker. If an employer expects that person specifically to perform the work, if they cannot sub-contract or send a substitute (unless it’s due to sickness) or if they are not undertaking the work as part of their own business then the employer may need to classify them as a worker
in making the judgement as to whether an individual is undertaking the work as part of their own business, the employer should consider factors including whether the employer controls the hours worked, whether tools or facilities are provided, whether employee benefits are provided and whether the employer is financially responsible for faulty work.
Show your working When carrying out the assessment, accountants and their employer clients should exercise ‘reasonable judgement’ in defining workers. The rationale for the decision should be documented, demonstrating the underlying reasons for inclusion or exclusion from the worker category. Should there be reason to suspect non-compliance through failing to classify staff correctly, written evidence of how these decisions were reached may be required by the Regulator.
Types of worker The types of worker for which the employer will have automatic enrolment duties are:
Eligible jobholders: these are workers who are eligible for automatic enrolment and are over 22, who ordinarily work in the UK and who earn above the earnings threshold currently set by the Department for Work and Pensions at £10,000 per annum
Non eligible jobholders: these are workers who are not eligible for automatic enrolment but who can choose to opt in. They are aged between 16 and 21, or between state pension age and 74, are ordinarily working in the UK and who earn above the earnings threshold of £5,772 per annum. Essentially they are workers who either meet the £10,000 per year threshold but not the age requirements or who meet the age requirements but not the £10,000 earnings threshold
Entitled workers: These workers are entitled to join a pension scheme and are between 16 and 74, who ordinarily work in the UK but whoearn below the earnings threshold of £5,772 per annum.
It should be noted that although the thresholds are quoted in annual terms, the assessment will always use a pro-rata value based on whether the worker is paid weekly, monthly or fortnightly etc. This means that their total earnings in a year are not relevant and they only have to earn over the threshold in one pay period to trigger automatic enrolment.
It should also be noted that the categorisation of worker covers workers wholly or ordinarily working in the UK. For certain employments, this may require further investigation to understand the exact scope of these terms in relation to the employment.
Ongoing duties It is important to keep track of the workforce to ensure compliance with their automatic enrolment duties. Workers must be assessed regularly as their contracts, hours, pay and conditions may change. Regular data cleansing and ensuring all staff records are up to date will help ensure workers are assessed correctly and will avoid the risk of non compliance.