The number of small and medium employers missing their auto-enrolment (AE) staging date increased in the third quarter, according to data from Aviva.
Of clients applying to Aviva to run their AE scheme, 12% submitted their applications after their staging date, opening up the potential for a fine from The Pensions Regulator (TPR). This is up from 10% in Q2, and 1% in Q1.
However, over half (53%) of small employers made their application two months or more before their staging date.
The remaining 36% of clients made their applications in either the month of or the month before their staging date.
The data was revealed in an AE staging tracker launched by Aviva on 11 October.
Employers who miss the staging date could 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 five and 49 employees may also be subject to a further fine of £500 per day.
Aviva managing director of business solutions Andy Beswick said employers with staging dates coming up should begin preparations as early as possible.
He said: "We understand that, for a variety of reasons, some business owners will leave applying to the last minute or miss their staging date.
"While 12% all companies who applied to us during Q3 did so after their staging month, in reality, almost half of all businesses left their auto-enrolment obligations to the last minute. Failing to set up a workplace pension before the staging date could result in fines and court action, but it doesn't need to get that far."
Getting small and medium sized employers prepared for AE has proven a challenge. TPR's use of powers to ensure compliance swelled by 306% between April 2015 and March 2016, compared to the same period in the previous year.
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