Employers must meet AE duties amid contribution holiday speculation

James Phillips reports...

The government has said it will “do whatever it takes” to support businesses through the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis, leading to speculation that there could be a short-term change in auto-enrolment (AE) policy.

As businesses grapple with the economic shock caused by the global pandemic, the Treasury has already set out plans to provide additional financial support to some affected firms, including suspending business rates and introducing a loan guarantee scheme.

Now, there have been reports that the government was considering allowing businesses to suspend minimum employer contributions under AE to relieve pressure on payroll.

In a statement to RP’s sister publication Professional Pensions, a cross-government spokesperson said: “The government will do whatever it takes to protect businesses and employers from the effects of coronavirus.

“We recognise the difficulties they face and will help support businesses of all sizes – so they can continue operating during these unprecedented times.”

Similarly, The Pensions Regulator (TPR) said it expected all firms to conform to their pension obligations.

“We expect employers to continue to meet their AE duties towards their staff,” a spokesperson said. “We are closely monitoring the situation in these challenging times and will act in line with government guidelines.

“The government has published information about support for employers, employees, and businesses affected by Covid-19.”

The government is expected to publish a bill this afternoon (19 March) setting out some of its initial responses to the crisis, including measures announced by the chancellor this week.

Another pensions measure that could support businesses include allowing a reduction or deferral in deficit recovery contributions to defined benefit schemes. However, there is currently no suggestion this is under active consideration.

Yesterday, Universities Superannuation Scheme reported itself to TPR after breaching a key funding measure for five consecutive days after market volatility led to a fall in its funding level.