Senior staff at UK recruitment firm Workchain have pleaded guilty to impersonating temporary workers in order to opt them out of the company’s pension plan, according to The Pensions Regulator (TPR).
TPR said Workchain owners and directors Phil Tong and Adam Hinkley encouraged five senior employees to get the temporary workers out of the pension so the company could avoid having to make payments on their behalf. It also said financial controller Hannah Armson, human resources and compliance officer Lisa Neal, and branch managers Martin West, Robert Tomlinson, and Andrew Thorpe conspired to opt workers out of the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) pension using its online system.
“Workchain’s directors saw denying their temporary workers pensions as a quick and easy way to save the company money,” Darren Ryder, TPR’s director of automatic enrollment, said in a release. “Both they and their senior staff thought nothing of misusing NEST’s online portal. Thanks to the vigilance of NEST, their attempt to cheat the automatic enrolment system failed.”
TPR, along with the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, Derbyshire Constabulary and Nottinghamshire Constabulary launched a joint investigation into Derby-based Workchain after NEST reported concerns about Workchain to TPR in May 2014. NEST is a defined contribution workplace pension that was established to facilitate automatic enrollment as part of the government’s workplace pension reforms under the Pensions Act 2008.
TPR prosecuted Workchain, the two directors, and five senior employees for unauthorized access to computer data, contrary to section 1(1) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990. TPR said it is the first time the regulator has launched prosecutions for the offense.
All of the defendants pleaded guilty to the offense when they appeared at Derby Magistrates’ Court. The judge committed the case to Derby Crown Court for a sentencing hearing on June 28.
A conviction for computer misuse carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment, and/or an unlimited fine in a magistrates’ court, and two years’ imprisonment, and/or an unlimited fine if the case is committed to the Crown Court.
“Automatic enrolment is not an option,” said Ryder. “It’s the law and the law is clear—no one can opt a worker out of a pension scheme, even if the worker agrees. Those who try to avoid their pension responsibilities in this way face prosecution.”