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January 27th, 2012

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The statutory limits on sums that Employment Tribunals may award are reviewed annually, with effect from 1 February. The increases this year reflect an increase in the Retail Prices Index of 5.6% in the year to September 2011. They will apply to dismissals taking place on or after 1 February 2012.

The maximum limit on a week’s pay, which is relevant for the calculation of the statutory redundancy payments and basic awards on the dismissal increases to £430 (from £400).

The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal will increase to £72,300 (from £68,400).

 

Did you know that under existing legislation, you can be fined up to £1,000 for “incorrectly presenting” your household waste for collection?  If you think that this may be something of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, the government appears to agree with you.

Under section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, your local authority may prosecute you for putting the wrong type of waste in the wrong bin, using the wrong type of bin, or even putting your bin out in the wrong place. The penalty is a fine of up to £1,000, and some local authorities have been more enthusiastic about this process than others.

The government appears to think that this is excessive.  DEFRA has just announced a consultation on possible amendments to local authority enforcement powers relating to household waste collection. It is proposing a lighter regime that will be along the following lines:

  • An initial requirement for local authorities to
    issue notices to householders that they have incorrectly presented their waste;
  • Fixed penalty notices, with greatly reduced
    penalties. DEFRA suggests £60 or £80, with discounts for early payment.
  • An appeals system

DEFRA proposes a test of “harm to local amenity” before a civil penalty can be imposed, saying that it

“aims to ensure that penalties are targeted at those who behave in a way which reduces the quality of their neighbours’ surroundings. In other words, penalties might be appropriate when bin bags are left on the street for days on end, for example, but not when someone does not close their bin lid properly, leaves it out for an hour too long, or mistakenly puts something in the wrong bin.”

The Government’s stated preference is for civil penalties with no underpinning criminal offence, saying

“It removes the threat of criminal sanctions applying to householders who present their waste for collection incorrectly, and seeks to achieve a balance between the need to respect individuals’ civil liberties and the need to deal effectively with behaviours which have a negative impact on residents’ local neighbourhoods.”

You can read more at http://www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2012/01/16/household-waste-1201/.   If you  wish, you can respond to the consultation, which closes on 12 March 2012.

Pensions may not be the most exciting subject, but they are important, sufficiently important for public sector workers to be pursuing a national campaign of industrial action. But that is not what this blog is about.

Starting 1 October 2012 changes to the law enacted in the Pensions Act 2008 and the Pensions Act 2011 will come into force requiring all employers in Great Britain to enrol employees automatically into a pension scheme (in fact the legislative scheme uses the word “jobholder” rather than employee).

Implementation will be phased over a four year period, commencing with the larger employers (see the timeline on the Pension Regulator’s website: www.tpr.gov.uk/staging ). The Pensions Regulator states that for businesses with fewer than 50 employees auto-enrolment will not apply until after the end of the current Parliament, which presumably means after May 2015.

What is auto-enrolment?
Under auto-enrolment, employers will be obliged to enrol eligible jobholders in a pension scheme, into which the employer must contribute at least 3% of the jobholder’s earnings. Employers must either use their own qualifying pension scheme or the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). Jobholders will have to contribute 5% of earnings, but this is to be phased in over 5 years.

Which employees are eligible?
Auto-enrolment will apply to all jobholders between the ages of 22 and state pension age. Jobholders include permanent and temporary employees as well as agency workers. They must earn at least £8,105 a year (this is the same amount as the personal allowance for Income Tax).

When will this apply to my company?
Please look at the timeline linked to above. In addition, we understand that the Pensions Regulator will be contacting companies six months before the “staging date” on which they must implement auto-enrolment. Nevertheless it may be sensible to begin planning now, and in particular to begin thinking about whether to set up your own qualifying pension scheme or to use NEST. We can recommend specialist pension advisers.

There is of course a lot of detail. Jobholders may opt out, but employers should take care as they may not induce jobholders to opt out of scheme membership and they may not make offers of employment conditional on opting out.

The Pensions Regulator will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the auto-enrolment scheme. Defaulting employers will face regulatory sanctions including compliance notices and penalties that will be determined on a sliding scale according to the size of the employer. The largest defaulting employers may face penalties of £10,000 per day! If it is considered that there has been a “wilful” failure to comply, then the individuals responsible may face criminal charges.