An accountant working on behalf of Primadell, the organisation that runs Gran Caffe Londra in Knightsbridge, has been ordered to pay £6,857.50 after pleading guilty to falsely informing The Pensions Regulator (TPR) that employees had been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension scheme.
In October 2015, Gran Caffe Londra missed its deadline to confirm that it had automatically enrolled its employees into a workplace pension. TPR sought to arrange an inspection to investigate this, but the café’s accountant, Hashmukh Shah, filed a declaration of compliance in November 2016, stating that the organisation had met its pensions duties.
In a later interview, Shah admitted to purposely misleading TPR. This false declaration had prevented TPR’s investigation, which would have found that staff had not been auto-enrolled. Employees were without a workplace pension, which they are entitled to, for more than a year.
Shah pleaded guilty to knowingly or recklessly providing false or misleading information to TPR on Wednesday 15 August 2018 at Brighton Magistrates’ Court. On Thursday 1 November 2018, Shah returned to court for sentencing, where he received a £3,937.50 fine. He was also ordered to pay £2,800 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge.
Deliberately providing false information to TPR about compliance with automatic enrolment duties is an offence under Section 80 of the Pensions Act 2004. This charge carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine.
Teresa Szagun, district judge, said: “In firefighting the financial crisis of the [organisation], Mr Shah in fact chose to ignore the individuals who actually, as the casual workforce, were probably the least well off. The false information he provided was deliberate and with the knowledge of the risks that involved, including the potential harm it could cause.”
This is the first time TPR has prosecuted a third party, working on behalf of an employer, for this offence.
Darren Ryder, director of automatic enrolment at TPR, added: “This case sends a clear warning to accountants and advisers tasked with completing an employer’s automatic enrolment duties; providing TPR with false or misleading information may land [them] with a criminal conviction and a fine. We take very seriously our role to ensure [employees] get the pensions they deserve and are entitled to by law. We do not look kindly on people whose deception gets in the way of our work.”
Primadell became compliant with its pension duties in March 2018 and backdated pension contributions for its employees.