TPR to prosecute firm for illegally opting staff out of pensions

Kim Kaveh writes

The Pensions Regulator (TPR) is to prosecute recruitment company Workchain and seven of its directors and senior staff for allegedly using a computer programme to terminate employees’ workplace pension scheme membership.

The firm – formerly known as Smart Recruitment UK – has been accused of logging into its workplace pension scheme’s online system using employees’ personal details to terminate their membership.

The watchdog launched prosecutions for unauthorised access to a computer programme to the defendants – contrary to section 1(1) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 last week. This is a first for the pensions watchdog.

A conviction for computer misuse carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine in a magistrates’ court, or two years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine if committed to the Crown Court.

The defendants have been summoned to appear at Derby Magistrates’ Court on 7 June.

Commenting on the news, Aegon head of pensions Kate Smith said this is a “clear signal that outrageous behaviour by unscrupulous employers to avoid paying pension contributions will not be tolerated”.

“Illegally opting employees out of their workplace pension, and denying them access to an employer contribution is a serious offence leading to criminal sanctions including imprisonment. The opt-out rules have been designed to protect employees from employer coercion, and should be an action taken by the employee alone.”

It comes as the regulator is taking a ‘clearer, quicker, tougher’ approach and using some of its powers for the first time.

It recently secured its first criminal prosecution of an employer failing to comply with the auto-enrolment regulations.