By Daniel Hunter

Numerous small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) employers do not realise that in order to meet their late 2013 pensions auto-enrolment staging deadlines, they should start planning now.

For example, companies of between 500 and 799 employees face a 1st November 2013 staging date, while companies employing between 350 and 499 individuals have a 1st January 2014 deadline.

“Employers need to decide how they are going to address auto-enrolment and put a proper plan into place,” says Peter Maher, head of financial services at Smith & Williamson, the accountancy and investment management group.

“This kind of project cannot be completed in a couple of months but a number of providers are unwilling to take on business if the employer is within six months of its staging date.

“In addition, options as to which qualifying workplace pensions scheme (QWPS) an employer can choose may become restricted if it does not act fast, as a number of providers have a limited capacity to accept new business.

“Ideally, employers should start planning at least 9 months to a year in advance. Even firms that currently operate a QWPS will need to review their schemes, make it available and explain it to all employees and make contributions on behalf of eligible employees. Failure to meet any of these criteria can result in hefty fines.”

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