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Court hands out custodial sentences following a TPR prosecution

A national recruitment agency, including its directors and senior staff, have been ordered to pay more than £280,000 for plotting to illegally opt workers out of their pension scheme.

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Workchain opted workers out of their NEST pension scheme
Workchain opted workers out of their NEST pension scheme

The prosecution of Derby-based Workchain Ltd and its staff has led to the largest fine and first custodial sentences for a case brought by The Pensions Regulator (TPR).

 

Workchain owners and directors Phil Tong and Adam Hinkley encouraged five senior staff at the company to get the workers out of the scheme - so the company could avoid making pension payments on their behalf.

 

TPR said financial controller Hannah Armson, HR and compliance officer Lisa Neal and branch managers Martin West, Robert Tomlinson and Andrew Thorpe, worked together to opt workers out of the NEST pension scheme.

 

Neal, West, Tomlinson and Thorpe phoned NEST posing as their temporary workers to get the employees’ account ID numbers. They then logged onto NEST’s online system and opted the temporary workers out of their pension scheme.

 

The regulator added that accessing the system by posing as workers is contrary to the terms of use of the system, which requires employees to opt out themselves, and is an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

 

TPR examined recordings of the conversations between NEST and Workchain, after NEST reported suspicious activity.

 

Workchain, its directors and five senior staff all pleaded guilty to computer misuse offences after TPR prosecuted them.

 

At Derby Crown Court last week, Judge Nirmal Shant QC told the defendants their “co-ordinated effort” had been an “attempt to steal a march” on their competitors.

 

She said: “This amounted to a deliberate subversion of the automatic enrolment process. It was a deliberate attack on the integrity of the electronic systems of NEST.”

 

Judge Shant ordered Workchain, formerly known as Smart Recruitment UK Ltd, to pay a £200,000 fine and £60,930 costs.

 

Tong and Hinkley were each given a four-month prison sentence suspended for two years and were ordered to complete 200 hours of community service and to pay £11,250 costs.

 

Armson was given a two-month prison sentence suspended for two years, a five-month overnight curfew and was ordered to pay £1,500 costs.

 

Neal was given a two-month prison sentence suspended for two years and was ordered to do 200 hours of community service and to pay £1,500 costs.

 

West, Tomlinson and Thorpe were each given a two year community order and were ordered to do 150 hours of community service and to pay £500 costs.

 

Darren Ryder, TPR’s director of automatic enrolment, said: “The scale of the punishments handed down today shows the court agreed with us that these were very serious offences.

 

“Automatic enrolment has led to almost 10 million more people saving towards their retirement. Its success cannot be allowed to be undermined by such incredibly rare cases of unacceptable behaviour as that of Workchain.”

 

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