The Regulator and the Robins – A cautionary tale

Chris Roberts

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From previous blogs, I have made it clear that Auto-Enrolment was in urgent need of a firm hand.  With the abject failure to strongly police Stakeholder, I have watched the regulatory position with interest.

The recent high profile case of Swindon Town FC (the Robins) has brought this sharply into focus.  Whilst not every case merits (or gets) this level of attention, there have been 6,746 separate cases of regulator intervention in auto-enrolment cases to 31st December 2015.  These range from over 1,000 fixed penalty notices being served (at £400 each), to 21 inspections of premises taking place (the tanks very much on the lawn).  With 100,000 employers enrolling each month, these numbers are going to increase significantly as we work through the micro-employer enrolment process.

The highlights (yes, the football puns begin now) of the tPR report on Swindon Town FC show a notice was issued on 18th August 2014, directing the club to automatically enrol staff and pay contributions by 17th October 2014. Over the course of the next 15 months there appears to have been a catalogue of miscommunications and missed deadlines.  This resulted in cumulative fines (or, penalties) of £22,900, which were finally settled on the 16th January 2016.

Whilst I don’t think opposition fans will be chanting “Workies going to get you” at the Swindon faithful, the exercise is a hugely embarrassing bit of PR.  If you type Swindon Town FC into Google right now you’ll see more about the failure to meet their obligation to staff than the exploits of Jan Åge Fjørtoft and their time in the top flight!

So, what can be learned from this case?

  • Start the process early.  The more time you have to plan and get your tactics settled, the more contingency you’ll have if problems occur.
  • Make sure you understand the rules and know the positions of advisers, providers and the Regulator.
  • Work with the Regulator.  Trying to battle and be defensive is not going to help the Company or the members.  Employers and the Regulator should have the common goal of compliance.

This will not be the last of these reports, but it serves as a welcome reminder to keep onside of employer duties and regulatory powers, with the final whistle on Auto-Enrolment being far from blown yet.