How does pensions auto-enrolment apply to trainee solicitors? We offer some initial guidance as to how the provisions are likely to operate

A number of people in recent months have asked the Society about auto-enrolment of pensions for trainee solicitors. This, if I’m honest, isn’t my area of expertise – my knowledge of pensions could probably just about fill the back of a postage stamp.

Happily, there is a Pensions Law Committee* at the Society. What those whizzes don’t know about pensions isn’t worth knowing. I asked them the simple question: Does auto-enrolment apply to trainee solicitors?

The answer was – as is often the case with these sorts of things – “Yes, but…”.

Auto-enrolment does apply to trainee solicitors subject to (a) staging date; (b) level of earning; (c) the person’s age.

The Pensions Committee noted that it was extremely likely that most trainees would meet the earning threshold but noted that a small number may not (i.e. it is potentially the case that some part-time trainees may be earning less than £833 per month).

It is technically possible – though unlikely – that a first year trainee will be 21 years old. It is more likely (though still relatively rare) that a trainee would be aged between state pension age and the age of 74.

There are comparatively few part-time trainees (and many of those will earn over the £833 threshold), and there are comparatively few trainees aged 21 or under, or above the state pension age – so auto-enrolment will apply to the overwhelming majority of trainee solicitors.

The introduction of auto-enrolment, however, is staged. Organisations that do employ trainees are not required to auto-enrol staff (including trainees) until their staging date occurs. By the end of 2018, auto-enrolment will apply to businesses of all sizes and all will require to auto-enrol their employees – trainees, solicitors and support staff. You can find out your staging date here.

The chart below is hopefully a useful at-a-glance guide.

Monthly gross earnings

From 16-21

From 22 to state pension age

From state pension age to 74

Weekly gross earnings

£486 and below

Has the right to join a pension scheme

£112 and below

Over £486 up to £833

Has the right to opt in

Over £122 up to £192

Over £833

Has a right to opt in

Automatically enrol

Has a right to opt in

Over £192

  • "Has the right to join a pension scheme" means: “If they ask you to, you must provide a pension scheme for them, but you don’t have to pay contributions.”
  • "Has the right to opt in" means: “If they ask to be put into a pension scheme, you must put them in your automatic enrolment pension scheme and pay regular contributions.”
  • "Automatically enrol" means: “You must put these members of staff in your automatic enrolment pension scheme and pay regular contributions. You don’t need to ask their permission. If they give notice, or you give them notice, to leave employment before you have completed this process, you have a choice whether to automatically enrol them or not.”

Hopefully that clears things up.

If you have any other questions – big or small – about anything to do with a traineeship, we (or indeed one of our committees) are always happy to provide the answers. Our brains can be picked by emailing, or by tweeting @NewlawyersLSS

Rob Marrs is senior policy manager at the Law Society of Scotland

*The Society has a large number of committees, made up of solicitor and non-solicitor members, which carry out valuable work looking at a range of issues to do with improving the law and legal practice. Find out about becoming a member of one of our committees.


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