Senior staff at a national recruitment agency tried to save money by impersonating their temporary workers to opt them out of their workplace pension scheme.
Workchain Ltd owners and directors Phil Tong and Adam Hinkley encouraged five senior staff at the company to get the temporary workers out of the scheme so the company could avoid making pension payments on their behalf.
Financial controller Hannah Armson, HR and compliance officer Lisa Neal and branch managers Martin West, Robert Tomlinson and Andrew Thorpe then worked together to opt workers out of the NEST pension scheme using its online system.
Derby-based Workchain (formerly known as Smart Recruitment UK Ltd), which has offices in towns and cities across the Midlands and the neighbouring counties, would have been able to avoid paying pension contributions if the offence had not been detected.
A joint investigation into Workchain involving The Pensions Regulator (TPR), the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, Derbyshire Constabulary and Nottinghamshire Constabulary was launched after NEST reported its concerns about Workchain to TPR in May 2014.
Darren Ryder, TPR’s Director of Automatic Enrolment, said:
“Workchain’s directors saw denying their temporary workers pensions as a quick and easy way to save the company money.
“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.
“Automatic enrolment is not an option, 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.”
TPR prosecuted Workchain, the two directors and five senior staff for an offence of unauthorised access to computer data, contrary to section 1(1) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990. This is the first time that TPR has launched prosecutions for this offence.
All of the defendants pleaded guilty to the offence when they appeared for the first time at Derby Magistrates’ Court today (7 June).
District Judge Jonathan Taaffe committed the case to Derby Crown Court for a sentencing hearing on 28 June 2018.
- TPR prosecuted:
Workchain Ltd, which has its head office in Stephensons Way, Derby, Derbyshire
Phil Tong, 41, of Spend Lane, Ashbourne, Derbyshire,
Adam Hinkley, 39, of Shardlow Road, Alvaston, Derbyshire
Hannah Armson, 34, of Heath Lane, Findern, Derbyshire
Lisa Neal, 33, of Marylebone Crescent, Mackworth, Derbyshire
Martin West, 31, of Jackson Road, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire
Robert Tomlinson, 38, of Crosby Close, Forest Town, Nottinghamshire
Andrew Thorpe, 33, of Thorpe Street, Burntwood, Staffordshire
- 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 the case is committed to the Crown Court.
- TPR is the regulator of work-based pension schemes in the UK. Our statutory objectives are: to protect members’ benefits; to reduce the risk of calls on the Pension Protection Fund (PPF); to promote, and to improve understanding of, the good administration of work-based pension schemes; to maximise employer compliance with automatic enrolment duties; and to minimise any adverse impact on the sustainable growth of an employer (in relation to the exercise of TPR’s functions under Part 3 of the Pensions Act 2004 only).