New scheme to fulfil auto-enrolment duties

United Response is a top 100 UK charity with a diverse, widely dispersed workforce of around 3,500 staff in England and Wales. The charity supports people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and physical disabilities and helps them to take control of their lives. The social care sector traditionally has a large number of employees on low pay and fluctuating hours.

The charity already operated a stakeholder scheme with some 800 active members. Some eligible employees had historically chosen cash in lieu of employer pension contributions, an option offered pre auto-enrolment in recognition of low pay levels in the social care sector. A further significant number of relief workers were not previously eligible for sponsored pension provision.

Barnett Waddingham advice

After analysing the earnings profile of the non-pensioned workforce, the stakeholder scheme was closed to new joiners with effect from the charity’s ‘staging date’. The charity therefore needed a new workplace scheme to fulfil its auto-enrolment duties.

Its main objectives for the new scheme and how these were overcome were as follows:

  • The charity wanted a high quality defined contribution scheme, which would be well perceived by employees and which would ease the charity’s new auto-enrolment processes. We gave guidance on the relative features of contract, trust and master trust approaches and the charity chose a contract-based approach for its low operating costs, flexibility and access to feature rich systems for both employees and the charity.
  • The charity required a leading provider for its new workplace scheme. We liaised with our panel of contract-based providers, and provided analysis of those agreeing to offer terms for the new scheme.
  • The charity had limited scope for fees, so we followed a ‘consultancy-lite’ approach to implementation and the project management was largely driven by the charity and provider.
  • The charity needed to withdraw the existing pension cash in lieu arrangement, due to the ‘safeguarding’ provisions of auto-enrolment. With our guidance, the charity agreed to use contribution phasing to facilitate a very gradual withdrawal of the cash in lieu and ultimately introduce mandatory employee contributions.

Recognising the dispersed nature of the workforce and the fact that the charity employs some staff members with learning disabilities, a customised communication strategy was a key objective. We worked with the charity on a thorough communications campaign, including many anticipated FAQs and the charity supplemented these with communications prepared in accessible form.

Having reached its staging date, and initially postponing the assessment of non-pensioned employees, United Response auto-enrolled some 1,451 employees into the new workplace scheme in the first month of implementation, October 2013.

"We found ourselves unable to extend our existing pension scheme for all our employees under auto-enrolment. However, Barnett Waddingham’s expertise helped guide us through the challenges we faced. Today we are auto-enrolment compliant, and our non-pensioned employees have access to a new high quality workplace pension scheme offering flexibility and access to information and tools to help them understand and manage their retirement savings. "
Diane Lightfoot, Director of Communications United Response