Auto enrolment for workplace pensions mandates that every employer in the UK put those employees who qualify into a pension scheme. Auto enrolment also requires that employers contribute into this pension scheme. As an employer, auto enrolment is part of your legal duty and it starts the day you hire your first employee.  

The Pensions Regulator is the UK regulator of all workplace pensions schemes. It provides guidance on your duties as an employer, how to choose a provider, how to communicate to employees and so on. For details, check out The Pensions Regulator website. 

Here’s an outline of the steps you follow to auto enrol for a pensions scheme:
  1. Choose your pension provider, if you don’t have one already set up
  2. Find your staging date (or your duty start date), or the date that your auto enrolment duties begin. 
  3. Set up auto enrolment
  4. Communicate with your employees
  5. Add your employees to the workplace pensions scheme
  6. Send the declaration to The Pensions Regulator stating that you have met your duties 
Choose your pension providerYou need to choose a pension scheme at least 6 months before your staging date.  

It is recommended that your pension scheme meet the auto enrolment requirements: Choose a pension provider that has a qualifying criteria and allows auto enrolment. Your pension provider might already be compliant with auto enrolment. In QuickBooks Online, we have a list of some of the more popular pension providers that meet auto enrolment requirements. This is not an exhaustive list, and we recommend that you select a pension provider that best suits your and your employees' needs. QuickBooks does not receive financial payments from any provider.  

You can use your existing pension scheme or choose a new one that meets your needs. For more information, see Choosing a pension scheme on The Pensions Regulator website. It provides a step-by-step guide for small employers to find a pension provider. 
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Find your staging date (or your duty start date)Your staging date or duty start date is when your auto enrolment duties begin for you as an employer. Whether you have a staging date or a duty start date depends on when you start paying your first employee under PAYE.
  • If you've paid employees on or before 30 September 2017, you'll have a staging date, which you can find in a letter sent from The Pensions Regulator about auto enrolment. You can also find your staging date on The Pension Regulator's website by entering your PAYE reference. 
  • If you pay your first employee after 30 September 2017, you'll have a duty start date instead of a staging date. You should have received a letter from The Pensions Regulator with details about your duty start date. What else should I know about employing staff for the first time?

    Where can I find my PAYE reference?

    You can find your PAYE reference in the booklet that HRMC sent you when you first registered as an employer or in other communication from HMRC. You can also find it on any payslip, P45 or P60 that you might have given your employees. Your PAYE reference can also be found on a P6/P9 coding notice or your P30BC white payslip booklet.

You can postpone when you must auto enrol eligible employees up to 3 months. The staging date/duty start date remains unchanged. See The Pensions Regulator for more information about postponement

See the Employer's section of The Pensions Regulator for more on staging and duty start dates.

What happens if I don’t comply or if I’m late to auto-enrol?

The Pensions Regulator is strict about you meeting your legal duties as an employer for auto enrolment. If you don’t comply, there will be actions taken against you. Before you face enforcement and fines, you will get a warning letter and then a statutory notice telling you to comply. If you’ve missed your auto enrolment, you have to inform your employees and allow them to back-date their contributions. You, in turn, will also have to back-date and pay any contributions you might have missed. For more details on non-compliance or paying late, including enforcement for not meeting your duties, see What happens if I don't comply on The Pensions Regulator website.


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Set up auto enrolment
  1. Go to Company
  2. Company Information

  3. Enter your staging date in the box named Pension automatic enrolment staging date at the bottom left of the company information box

Creating payroll pension items

Next you need to set up your pension items. You will be provided with all the necessary information by your pension provider.

  • Go to Lists
  • Payroll Item List
  • Payroll Item
  • New
  • Pension and Name the item
  • Click Next and tick Pension Contribution

A box will appear asking Is the pension a qualified scheme? This needs to be checked if the pension is a qualified scheme in order to use the item for an enrolled worker when creating a payroll payment for them. Follow the remainder of the wizard to create the pension deduction item

Finally don't forget to create your employers pension contribution item

What are my employer contributions?

Pension contributions are a fixed amount or a percentage of the employee’s pay. Employers must pay a minimum contribution into their employees’ pensions scheme. Minimum contributions are currently 2% with employers paying a minimum of 1%. However, from 6 April 2018, there is an increase in the minimum contributions, with another increase due 6 April 2019. See table below for details.

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Communicate with your employeesAs part of your employer duties you must communicate the enrolment process with your employee. You must do this within 6 weeks of your staging date. Some pension providers will offer to send communication on your behalf. If they do not offer this, then you can use the letter templates available on The Pensions Regulator website: Write to your Staff


We assess all employees and auto enrol the eligible employees in to the workplace pension scheme. If you have a staging date/duty start date, but don’t have any other information entered, we give you the option to set up your workplace pension scheme details later. If you don’t have a staging date/duty start date, then we cannot complete the assessment as we cannot add the relevant employees to a workplace pension. 

We assess employees each time you run payroll, and then we auto enrol all eligible employees in the workplace pension scheme. You have the option to change the contribution or postpone enrolment

If you haven’t set up a workplace pension scheme, then we give you the option during your payroll run to enter your staging date/duty start date and other information, as described in Set up auto enrolment

If you already have assessed employees using other payroll software, then be sure to answer the following questions about the auto enrolment status as you add each employee.

What do I need to know about opting out?

Once an employee has been auto enrolled, they have the option to opt out.

  • The employee MUST contact the pension provider within a set period. Your pension provider will give you details on this process.
  • As an employer, you cannot influence the employee into opting out. It is illegal to put pressure in any way on the employee.
  • If the employee does opt out in the correct manner, then your pension provider will provide details of a valid opt-out.
  • If there is a valid opt-out, then any pension contributions deducted from the employee must be refunded on the next available payroll run.
  • You as an employer will also receive a refund of any employer contributions paid to the pension provider.

What are the different worker categories?

Based on how much an employee earns each pay, we assess whether the employee is eligible and also adjust the amount that is added to the pension scheme. All workers have the right to join, but only eligible workers must be auto enrolled. Your duties as an employer cover both eligible and non-eligible job holders. 

 Eligible Job holdersMust be auto enrolled 
Employer obliged to pay the contribution

Non‐eligible Job holders
Have a right to opt in 
Employer obliged to pay the contribution
Entitled workersHave a right to join 
Employer is not obliged to make a contribution

How would I know which workers are eligible?

Based on the information in the employee’s profile, we assess whether the employee is eligible and list only those who meet the criteria. The basis of eligibility is shown in the following table. 

Categories of worker relative to age and earningsEarnings
 
Age (inclusive)
16-21  22-SPA* SPA*-74
Lower earnings threshold or belowEntitled workerMore than lower earnings threshold up to and including the earnings trigger for automatic enrolmentNon-eligible jobholderOver earnings trigger for automatic enrolmentNon-eligible jobholderEligible jobholderNon-eligible jobholder*State pension age

Can I postpone who to put in the pension scheme?

You can postpone who to add to the pension scheme. However, postponement does not change the staging date/duty start date.

You must write and inform the employee whose automatic enrolment you’re postponing, and you must let the employee know within 6 weeks from the date enrolment starts.

You can postpone auto enrolment from:

  • Your staging date/duty start date for any existing workers
  • The first day of employment for any new starters after the staging date/duty start date
  • The date an employee becomes eligible for auto enrolment

Postponement suspends the duty of assessment and automatic enrolment, but not all the employer duties.

  • You can postpone up to a maximum of 3 months
  • The postponement period doesn’t have to be the same for all employees, but there can only be one postponement at a given time for an employee
  • Jobholders have the right to opt in or join during postponement
  • You must communicate the postponement to the employee. For your convenience you can use the letter template.

For more details on postponement, see Detailed guidance for employers from The Pensions Regulator.

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Send the declaration to Pensions Regulator stating that you have met your dutiesWithin 5 months of your staging date/duty start date, you must complete the online Declaration of Compliance. 

The Declaration of Compliance informs The Pensions Regulator that you have met your automatic enrolment duties. It is an employer’s legal duty to complete the declaration, although you can delegate it to an agent or accountant or to your pension provider. Make sure that you know who is going to make the declaration. The declaration is a secure, online service accessed through the Government Gateway. 

If you do not complete this on time you will be subject to fines and penalties. 

Use the Declaration of Compliance Checklist to ensure that you have ready all the relevant information you will need to complete the form online.