An accountant for a London café has admitted to lying to The Pensions Regulator (TPR) about staff being enrolled into a pensions scheme.
TPR launched an investigation into Gran Caffe Londra in Knightsbridge, situated right across from Harrods, after the company missed its deadline to automatically enrol staff into a pension in October 2015.
When TPR arranged an inspection of the business, accountant Hashmukh Shah falsely declared that the company had met its duties.
When later interviewed, he admitted he had purposely misled officers. Shah’s declaration prevented an inspection which would have uncovered the employer’s failure to automatically enrol its staff.
Shah’s lie delayed TPR’s investigation by more than a year, denying the café’s staff pension contributions to which they were entitled.
At Brighton Magistrates' Court earlier, Shah, of Richmond, Surrey, pleaded guilty to knowingly or recklessly providing false information to TPR. Deliberately providing false information to TPR about auto enrolment is an offence under the Pensions Act 2004.
The case is the first time the watchdog has prosecuted a third party on behalf of an employer. The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine. Shah will be sentenced on 5 September.
After the hearing, TPR director Darren Ryder said: "It is totally unacceptable for an accountant or any other professional to file false documents to purposely avoid meeting an employer's automatic enrolment pension duties.
"There is no legitimate excuse for such action, which denies staff the savings they deserve for their retirement."
Henry Tapper, founder of Pension PlayPen and director at First Actuarial, labelled Shah’s actions as “dumb”. He added, “We will find out soon how criminal that stupidity was.
“Accountants need to promote, not demote auto-enrolment. Workplace pensions aren't a tax to be avoided but a workplace benefit to be celebrated.”
Gran Caffe Londra eventually became compliant in March 2018 and the company has backdated pension contributions for its staff.