The Pensions Regulator (TPR) increased its use of frontline powers by 32% over the last year, it confirmed in its annual report and accounts.
Published yesterday (18 July), the regulator noted this was before including enforcement powers related to automatic enrolment (AE), with almost 50,000 fines issued for AE non-compliance over the 2018/19 year.
The annual report revealed information-gathering powers were exercised 154 times; trustee appointment powers 593 times; financial penalties were issued to 59 schemes for not completing scheme returns; and mandatory penalty notices were issued 286 times for failure to complete chair's statements, or where those were inadequate. Another 14.7% of schemes were subject to a risk-targeted regulatory intervention.
However, the watchdog failed to meet four out of 22 of its key performance indicators (KPIs): The number of trustee toolkit module passes at 13,661 compared to a 14,000 target; the amount of proactive casework in the year at 88% compared to a 100% target; employee engagement, which received a score of 58% against a target of 75%; and staff performance, which received 66% against a 70% target.
The regulator sets KPIs to measure how it performs against plans for delivery in the year. Last year, it missed just one of 19 targets.
It said two of those missed this year were due to a refocus of resources during the year, redeploying efforts on new ways of working. These included building one-to-one relationships with larger schemes and increased targeted communications to monitor how schemes are being treated.
The watchdog said its other two missed KPIs reflected its "significant organisational change", with plans in place to address these areas.
Chairman Mark Boyle said: "A year of growth and change has seen our ‘clearer, quicker, tougher' regulatory approach become central to our everyday work and regulatory actions.
"We are already undertaking twice as many proactive interventions thanks to our one-to-one supervision approach. We are supporting the 14 million savers in master trusts as the trusts go through the new authorisation process which we helped to set up.
"I'm proud of the role TPR has played in ensuring that for so many people, saving more for retirement is now business as usual. During the past year we saw the 10 millionth saver automatically enrolled into a pension while rising contribution rates did not result in the opt-outs some had predicted."
Total minimum contributions were increased from a total of 5% with 3% minimum employee contributions to a total of 8% with 5% employee minimum contributions in April this year.
The watchdog is currently in the middle of authorising defined contribution master trusts, with 39 schemes having applied. It has so far approved 11, with Mercer being the most recent to be given the stamp of approval this month.
TPR also revealed that its total expenditure in 2018/19 was £85.4m - £2.6m lower than the budget given by the government.
Chief executive Charles Counsell added: "Our new ways of working ensure we have better oversight of those we regulate, improved identification of risks and a sharper focus on how best to use our powers.
"In the past 12 months we have used our new approaches to address, deter and punish inappropriate and dishonest activity. Results include our first prosecution for fraud, our first custodial sentence and the courts handing down the largest ever fine following a TPR prosecution."
TPR has a raft of projects remaining from this year. It also announced yesterday that it is considering plans to combine its 15 codes of practice into a single, shorter code as part of its 'clearer, quicker and tougher' initiative. Earlier this month, it launched a consultation on scheme governance and trusteeship, urging "badly-run schemes" to improve or consolidate.
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