What is Pension Auto-enrolment

UK employers must provide access to a pension for their eligible workers. Employees can choose to opt out of auto-enrolment if they wish to.


The rules are complex and are overseen by The Pensions Regulator.

There are exemptions for companies with only one director and those with family members who are a director if:

  • They don’t work under a contract of employment (so aren’t an employee)

  • They don’t have a contract to perform work or services personally and are undertaking the work as part of the business.


The Pensions Regulator will write to you setting out the action you must take in relation to Pension auto-enrolment. If the Regulator hasn’t contacted you, and you employ staff, contact the Regulator immediately on 0345 600 1011, to ensure you meet your PAE obligations.


The Pensions Regulator may impose fines if you don’t meet your auto-enrolment responsibilities, ranging from a £400 fixed penalty to a varying daily escalating penalty from £50 to £10,000.

Who is affected by Pension auto-enrolment?

Pension auto-enrolment affects every employer in the UK, regardless of the size of the business. All employers must now provide access to a workplace pension scheme and automatically enrol eligible employees. An employee is eligible for auto-enrolment if all of the following conditions apply to them:

  • At least 22 years old

  • Not yet at State Pension age (this differs for men and women you can check the relevant State Pension Age for employees using the site)

  • Earn at least £10,000 per year (for the 2019/20 and 2020/21 tax years). This threshold is set by the Department for Work and Pensions and may increase each year. The Pensions Regulator publishes earnings threshold information on their website)

  • Normally working in the UK under a contract of employment.

Is my company exempt from auto-enrolment?

You won’t have any auto-enrolment responsibilities  if any of the following conditions apply:

  • you’re a sole director of an organisation or business with no other staff

  • your organisation or business has a number of directors, none of whom has an employment contract, with no other staff

  • your organisation or business has a number of directors, only one of whom has an employment contract, with no other staff

  • your organisation or business has gone into liquidation

  • your organisation or business has been dissolved

  • you’re a partnership or limited liability partnership and you have permanently ceased trading

  • you’re a sole trader and you have permanently ceased trading

  • you’re an individual and you no longer employ someone in your home (a cleaner, nanny, personal care assistant etc).


Many businesses consisting only of directors already make contributions to a pension scheme on behalf of their directors as an allowable business expense. However, you should still notify The Pensions Regulator your business is exempt from auto-enrolment and that the rules do not apply to your business.


You can let The Pension Regulator know if you believe you’re exempt from auto-enrolment and understand more about the possible reasons for  exemption online at the TPR website.

What do I need to do as an employer?

You must nominate a contact for your company who will be responsible for your company’s auto-enrolment and will receive all communications from The Pensions Regulator.

If you become an employer for the first time, your legal duties will commence as soon as your employee(s)start working. You’ll need to ensure you have a compliant scheme set up within six weeks of your taking on your first employee.


The main tasks to remain compliant once your pension scheme is set up is the administration of the scheme, managing leavers, joiners and payments – for this you’ll need some information from each of your employees.

  • Date of birth

  • National Insurance Number

  • Latest contact details

  • The amount they’ve been paid


You will also need to include the following types of staff pay in your calculation:

  • salary

  • wages

  • commission

  • bonuses

  • overtime

  • statutory sick pay

  • statutory maternity pay

  • ordinary or additional statutory paternity pay

  • statutory adoption pay


You’ll have to pay a minimum contribution set by the government for every eligible member of staff (see table 2 below). There may also be other costs to consider, such as getting the right software and seeking professional advice on how to implement the scheme.


The Pensions Regulator has information on their website that can give you a rough calculation of how much you’ll have to contribute towards pensions as a monetary amount.

Who do I have to auto-enrol?

You must assess all of your employees to see whether they must be automatically enrolled into a pension scheme. However, certain staff, depending on age and earnings, may not need to be enrolled automatically but do have the right to join or opt-in to a pension scheme. This can be a complex area to navigate and the following table provides a helpful guide to assist you in assessing your employees and deciding whether they need to be enrolled in a pension scheme automatically.

Table 1 – How to see if your employees need to be auto-enrolled

Auto Enrolling Employees Accountants

*SPA – State Pension Age – this differs for men and women you can check the relevant State Pension Age for employees using the site

What’s the difference between joining and ‘opting-in’ to a pension scheme?

As the above table indicates, assessing the status of your employees for auto-enrolment can be complex. The final decision is important because your chosen pension scheme may need to meet certain minimum standards and you may need to make contributions to the scheme as an employer.

If a member of staff decides to opt-in, the pension scheme must meet the government’s standards for auto-enrolment and the employer must make the minimum (employer) contribution set by the government.


However, if someone asks to join a pension scheme, the pension scheme doesn’t have to meet the government’s standards for auto-enrolment and the employer does not have to make any (employer) contributions.


It’s against the law to try and affect your employee’s decision to opt-in or out. Examples of this would include offering cash bonuses or withholding pay for opting out.

Opting out of a pension scheme

‘Opting out’ is when an employee decides to leave a pension scheme within a month of being enrolled. Staff that have been enrolled and those who have opted in can choose to opt out. The key points you need to know about opting out are:

  • Employees who have been automatically enrolled or who have decided to opt-in to a pension scheme have the right to opt-out

  • The decision to opt-out of the pension scheme must be taken freely by the employee

  • Employees cannot opt-out of a pension scheme until after they’ve been automatically enrolled

  • The opt-out period is one month from when active membership is created, or they receive their letter with the enrolment information, whichever is the latest

  • Employees opt-out by getting an opt-out notice from the pension scheme which they then complete and give to their employer

  • The employer must issue a full refund of any contributions the staff member has made into a pension scheme within a month of receiving a valid opt-out notice.

  • A worker can leave the scheme at any other time if they don’t opt-out, but won’t receive a refund of contributions.

  • Every three years all those who have opted out will need to be re-enrolled in the scheme (but again can choose to opt-out).


An employer must not actively encourage an employee to opt-out of their pension scheme (which could be considered an ‘inducement’). Any decision to opt-out must be taken freely by the employee without influence from the employer.

What contributions do I have to make as an employer or employee?

The government reviews the earnings thresholds and minimum contributions employers and employees must make to their pension scheme each year. Any changes will take place at the start of a tax year, tax years run from 6th April to 5th April.

Table 2  – What are the minimum employee and employer contributions to an auto-enrolment pension scheme? 

Minimum Contributions to an auto-enrolment pension scheme

*  Tax year runs from 6th April to 5th April

How can We help with auto-enrolment?

We offer our clients a full service to help you with pension auto-enrolment if you need to enrol your employees. We can set up your auto-enrolment pension scheme and administer this monthly including running your payroll.

Setting up a pension auto-enrolment scheme

We can set up an auto-enrolment pension scheme for our Karia Accountants Ltd Payroll clients for £150 +VAT. We’ll set up your company scheme with NEST, the government’s workplace pension scheme, assess your employees, and enrol any who qualify.


Monthly management of auto-enrolment deductions

We administer deductions from employees’ payslips each month and deal with the pension provider on your behalf. We’ll also manage new starters, opt-ins and opt-outs.


Informing HMRC why you’re not setting up a scheme

If your business needs to inform HMRC an auto-enrolment pension scheme has been offered to employees, where the employees have decided to opt-out, we can handle the process.


At Karia Accountants, We have been established since 2013, and therefore, we have been through the entire process as above with many clients and we are experienced to help you with the above. Please call us on 01332 492101 to discuss in more detail.