The TPR protects the UK's workplace pensions and make sure employers, trustees, pension specialists and business advisers can fulfil their duties to scheme members.

We have all been affected as individuals, and as organisations, by the pandemic and many of us have been called on to make unexpected decisions.

For TPR, this has been no different. Our focus remains on protecting savers by ensuring pensions schemes are well run. However, we do not operate in a bubble and to be an effective regulator it is necessary to take action and make balanced decisions in light of changing environments.

While the events of the last seven months are unprecedented, TPR's clear, quick and tough approach is proving vital in helping us to respond to the challenges as they have unfolded.

In the early days of the lockdown in March, we took swift and decisive action to support employers and pension schemes through the crisis. In line with the government's response, we recognised the enormous pressure employers found themselves under. The best way to protect savers in that sudden and wholly extraordinary period was to support their employers.

We recognised both employers and pension schemes needed the space to focus on their immediate risks and priorities. 

In respect of employers, we did not want to make an extremely challenging and unforeseen situation worse for them. The decision to introduce measures to support employers balanced the need to recognise pressures on employers (and therefore not increase the risk of job losses) with the need to ensure employers meet their pension duties so staff receive the contributions they are due.

The successful roll out of automatic enrolment has changed the savings culture and our research shows most employers want to do the right thing for their staff.  Automatic enrolment is the norm for employers and it is only necessary to use our powers in a minority of cases. We have seen those themes and behaviours have largely endured over recent months. Employers are continuing to meet their automatic enrolment and re-enrolment responsibilities on time.  Compliance levels for new and existing employers remain steady with the vast majority of employers successfully assessing staff and putting those who opted out back into a pension.  

Where we do encounter non-compliance, our experience tells us that where a warning notice is issued, this is enough to bring the majority of employers back on track. So, while we took a risk-based approach to issuing some financial penalties, we have continued to issue compliance notices warning employers to take action to rectify breaches.

That said, we have remained clear throughout the pandemic that employers continue to have workplace pensions duties. While we will make pragmatic enforcement decisions in light of the pressure they are under, we have continued to vigorously pursue the small number of employers committing serious or prolonged breaches.  

Consistent with the government's plans and support for businesses, we are returning to normal enforcement approaches, so that savers continue to be protected and that employers fulfil their automatic enrolment duties on time and in full, including paying workplace pensions contributions for their staff. 

Our current approach to employer enforcement

We have taken a pragmatic approach to enforcement in light of the pressures employers are under due to the pandemic. 

As mentioned, to support employers we temporarily extended the backstop for reporting late payments from 90 to 150 days, to give more time to Employers who were immediately and adversely affected by the sudden lockdown last March to work with their provider to bring late payments up to date and ensure staff receive their contributions - before enforcement action would be taken. This extension remains in place until the end of this year and employers who are struggling should speak to their pension provider.    

These easements are temporary and we been have been consistently clear that employers continue to have duties, including making the correct contributions on time - and that we will take action to ensure staff receive their pensions. 

We have continued to write to new employers and those approaching their re-enrolment dates to remind them of their deadlines and duties and that we will take action to ensure compliance where necessary.                        

Our COVID guidance is being reviewed and updated regularly in line with government and changing circumstances. Employers and advisers should check our guidance regularly to ensure they are up to date.  

We have continued to track and monitor compliance of all types and those employers who remain non-compliant can expect us to take appropriate action to secure their compliance. Throughout this year, we have continued, as normal, to enforce against serious breaches where employers have been wilfully non-compliant and savers have been at immediate risk. 

While we introduced temporary changes to our enforcement approach, we did not stop using our powers in respect of serious breaches where staff were at immediate risk, we have taken and will continue to take action to protect savers.

We know these are challenging times for employers, however early indications are that the majority of employers have continued to meet their AE responsibilities, including those accessing the CJS scheme.

Information for employers accessing support through the government's Kickstart and Job Support Scheme is available from HMT.

We will continue to keep our approach under review in line with the government approach to supporting employers as the situation changes.