57.1. The Board considered a report providing updates on Employer Engagement activities including communications and the collection of Employer contributions up to August 2021 which were due on 19 September 2021.
57.2. CD asked whether i-Connect is carrying out the functions it was expected to perform.
57.3. Tim Hillman (TH), Pensions Manager – Employer Engagement, said that it is broadly performing how expected in cleansing employer data and providing monthly updates, however, some issues have been encountered, for example, where employee IDs are entered differently by different payrolls and the system does not reconcile these properly. Paul Punter (PP), Head of Pensions Administration, said i-Connect offered more positives than negatives but the software provider, Aquila Heywood, has acknowledged there are issues with the software that it is planning to resolve next year, including how it reconciles different payroll numbers, but a workaround will be needed until then. There is also an issue where i-Connect receives payroll data so promptly that it will process the final pensions calculation of someone marked as a leaver by the employer and cleanses them from the system only for the employer to inform the Pensions Administration Team (PAT) that the employee still has unpaid holiday, meaning they need recreating in the system and their final benefits recalculated. There is also an issue with how i-Connect records top up employer contribution rates paid by employers. These issues are also due to be addressed by Aquila Heywood, but the PAT is exploring how best to deal with them in the interim.
57.4. TD asked whether these issues would mean it necessary to advise employers to send data in a different way.
57.5. PP said the PAT is keen to avoid changing how data is collected from employers at the moment, because i-Connect is being rolled out and it would cause confusion if a new way of collecting employer contributions was imposed on employers still getting used to how i-Connect works. The PAT plans to advise employers that the issues are known about, but Aquila Heywood is developing solutions to them in the new year
57.6. The Chair asked for confirmation that this meant the PAT would not be looking at a new software supplier for the purposes of monthly data collection.
57.7. TH agreed that there were no plans to look for alternative software and that i-Connect had been beneficial, especially for small employers. It had also enabled the PAT to engage with these small employers more generally as part of the onboarding process. It would also make the Annual Benefit Statement (ABS) process more straightforward as data is received monthly throughout the year and data queries can be dealt with in a more timely manner; dealing with these queries from onboarded smaller employers at the moment is also why the PAT is pausing onboarding bigger employers for now.
57.8. The Chair asked whether the members self-service link on the new website was working.
57.9. TH confirmed the member self-service section is working and will be made a real focal point of the website in the future to enable people to get the answers they need to their queries online.
57.10. The Chair asked why the number of later employer contributions has increased steadily since March.
57.11. TH explained that some small employers are paying their contributions via cheque, for example, seven of ten during August were late cheques. These cheques are being sent to County Hall, where post is currently being reviewed weekly, so they are often not picked up until after the bank deadline of the 19th of each month. The PAT is speaking with these employers to see whether they can send via recorded delivery or electronic payment instead. Another late payment in August had been due to the employer changing payroll the month before, whilst another had not pressed the ‘pay’ button to send the payment through to ESPF. The PAT is making sure the process of payment is more efficient and reminders are sent early in the month.
57.12. The Chair of the Pension Committee asked whether there are any common characteristics to the late paying employers.
57.13. TH said the late payers are mostly small employers that pay by cheque, typically parish councils, who need more than one signatory for the cheque before it can be sent, making delays more likely. It is not the same employers each time, however, as a warning is sent after a late payment that an administration charge will be applied if there are any further late payments in the next 12 months, and so far no employer has been given this charge.
57.14. The Board RESOLVED to note the report