One in five small employers are missing the staging date for auto-enrolment (AE), according to Now Pensions client figures.
In the second quarter of this year, 21% of 2,131 firms did not complete their application to Now Pensions until after their staging date. Another 19% left it until the month before.
In contrast, 34% of registrants signed up at least six months before the staging date.
Chief executive Morten Nilsson said small firms are risking heavy fines.
He said: "As time goes by, it's becoming increasingly clear that when it comes to auto-enrolment, smaller employers are divided into planners or procrastinators.
"While it's worrying that one in five are missing their staging date, it's also reassuring to see that a third are planning well in advance.
"Small business owners have a lot to think about and it's easy for auto-enrolment to be put on the back burner but the fines for non-compliance are steep and missing the deadline can cause unnecessary sleepless nights."
Companies that do not comply with AE will receive a fine of £400 if they do not respond to a 28-day warning note issued after the deadline. After this, companies with between 5 and 49 employees may also be subject to a further fine of £500 per day.
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