The TPR says it will chase employers across the UK that try to dodge their workplace pension duties by changing their identity.
The regulator says it has become aware of a number of employers that appear to have tried to conceal their failure to comply with the law by “hiding” behind a new name, the so-called “phoenixing” strategy. Some advisers may be complicit in helping employers use this ploy, believes the TPR.
TPR investigators are working with counterparts at the Insolvency Service and other agencies to take action against offenders that try to use this trick, it says.
Among the offences that may have been committed are fraud, theft and wilfully failing to comply with the automatic enrolment laws.
A number of investigations are under way in cases involving scores of employees who may have been denied the pensions they are entitled to.
The TPR says the vast majority of employers comply with their workplace pension duties.
However, TPR believes those running a small minority of employers could be trying to hide their non-compliance with the law by opening new businesses, transferring their workforce across and then dissolving the original businesses. The suspicion is that by changing name, those involved hope to avoid having to pay the pension contributions due.
Investigators are also looking into whether “rogue advisers” could be suggesting to employers that they use the tactic to avoid their duties.
TPR is currently carrying out short-notice inspections on employers across the UK that are suspected of breaching their automatic enrolment duties.
Darren Ryder, TPR’s director of automatic enrolment, said: “Some bosses might think that changing the name of their company they can avoid their duties but they should know they are on our radar.
“We are aware of the camouflage they are trying to use and will not be fooled by it.”
“We will not tolerate any attempt to deny employees the workplace pensions they are entitled to – and will take action against those who try to dodge their duties.”
Tom Selby, senior analyst at SIPP and platform provider AJ Bell, said: “Given the seriousness of these alleged breaches, it would be no surprise to see the regulator pursue the heaviest possible sanctions.
“Those who wilfully fail to put eligible workers into a pension scheme, as appears to be the case here, could face criminal prosecution and a maximum prison term of two years.”