Forecourt Trader - 30 years at the heart of the fuel retailing community

Service Centre: Jac Roper talks about the auto-enrolment pension trap plus the worst service ever

Auto-enrolment nothing to do with cars: Anyone who knows Londis retailer Steve Vaughan (Handbridge Services, Chester) knows that he likes to pass on useful tips. In 2015 he recommended AEclipse, a company that will set up a pension scheme for you without ripping you off. (And as we all know, any new scheme involving money and red tape, automatically attracts rip-off merchants). His latest tip is on the same subject. (And I do know that 'pensions' is a very boring, easily-ignored subject although, funnily enough, the older you get, the more interesting it gets).

Anyway, pay attention this is important. If you have any staff at all you need to go through the auto-enrolment process. As Steve says: "The pension regulator doesn't even know if you have staff. But if you don't register, you could get fined."

And the amounts are scary. Pete Avery, who runs AEclipse, says: "The scale of the potential to get things wrong is highlighted by The Pension Regulator's prediction that fines handed out to business owners for non-compliance will surpass £20m by this time next year." He adds that there are two main reasons why small businesses will get caught up in fines.

"Firstly, there is still a lack of understanding in the marketplace about the need to automatically enrol some staff into a workplace pension scheme and making the other staff members aware of their rights. Many business owners and managers have buried their heads in the sand, either not wanting to deal with it or simply not knowing it is a legal requirement. Often their accountants are not much help, having yet to really define where they stand on the process, ie, is it a service they should offer or stay clear of, as accountants don't feel comfortable with what they perceive is pension advice." (Like I said, easily-ignored subject.)

Secondly, he says, many firms simply do not have the resources to manage ongoing compliance requirements, particularly those with businesses that see a high turnover of staff.

"Fines can come from all angles; missing their staging date or failing to file their declaration of compliance are just two examples for which thousands of businesses have been fined already."

So, we have retailers with no sense of urgency and what Pete Avery himself calls "an uninspiring subject with various permutations and lots of hidden costs".

"For the owner/manager wearing lots of different hats, auto enrolment feels like an annoying chore that can be put off until the last minute. The reality of course is that this last-minute-itis will create a group that just never gets round to finding a solution and if they do get a scheme set up then they will often pay far too much for it as they haven't left themselves enough time and they panic. The majority of businesses are either paying high up-front costs to financial advisers for scheme set-up, unnecessary administration fees for themselves and their staff, making higher pension contributions than they need to or are paying a small fortune for the ongoing requirements."

In a nutshell then: get the right kind of help.

Worst company award goes to:

I nominate Extra Energy and I know a few retailers who would agree with me. Certainly Huw Griffiths would. Earlier this year I reported that Huw had been trying and failing for 10 months to extract a bill from Extra Energy for his Bridgend-Nisa site despite sending in numerous meter readings. He had, at that point, put £20K aside for the eventual bill.

In late October he sent me an email saying: "I finally received a bill from Extra Energy at the end of August for the 12 months May 2015 to May 2016. I paid them the sum of £2,4387.40 by a BACS on the 30th September. Last week I received an email from them requesting an immediate payment of the sum again. I rang them and sent an email informing them I had paid the bill. Today I have received the attached email yet again. Please warn your readers again to avoid this company at all costs."

You can probably guess what the attached email was.

Yes, a nagging demand pointing out the impact non-payment might have on Huw's credit rating. And they threatened handing the 'debt' over to a debt collector.

While checking into this company's dismal background I came across pieces that confirmed that the regulator Ofgem has launched an investigation after Citizens Advice received a record number of complaints.

The Trustpilot review site gives the company one star and, as at least one of them pointed out, you are not allowed to give zero stars or a 'minus' rating. Customer service is certainly not Extra Energy's second name.

The good news is that, following Huw's furious rattling of their cage, Extra Energy has confirmed that payment had been received. The bad news? The debt collectors are still hounding him.

Jolly hols!

The probability is that you will be working over the holidays while desk sloths like me manage to rearrange deadlines to get nearly a week off. All the more time to spend, spend, spend with you and yours. And I have it on good authority well, according to mirror.co.uk we spend more dosh on Christmas than anywhere else in Europe. And nearly 28% of the kitty goes on food and drink. So you are in the right business.

I wish you all health and happiness, peace and prosperity. See you next year.

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Weekly retail fuel prices: 18 September 2017
RegionDieselLPGSuper ULUL
East120.75128.55119.84
East Midlands120.29128.81119.63
London120.7558.57130.05119.82
North East120.2059.90129.98119.40
North West120.52128.62119.81
Northern Ireland119.2369.90126.85119.03
Scotland120.60128.18119.75
South East121.03130.63120.24
South West120.75129.31119.96
Wales120.35127.44119.57
West Midlands120.4262.90130.69119.84
Yorkshire & Humber120.1971.90128.67119.59

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