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What is the definition of a director?

When referring to a director, we mean anyone holding office as a director. This does not include a person who is a director in name only.

In the case of a company, it means a director formally appointed under the Companies Act 2006, and also anyone acting as a director in the sense of having a decision-making role in the corporate governance of the company, even if they have not been properly appointed.

In the case of corporate bodies other than companies, it means anyone holding an office of director created by the establishing legislation or Royal Charter.

When is a director regarded as a worker?

A director is only a worker for automatic enrolment purposes if:

  • they have a contract of employment with the organisation
  • at least one other person (who can be another director) also has a contract of employment with the organisation

A contract of employment does not have to be written down anywhere, it could also be either a verbal or implied contract.

However, if there is no written contract of employment, or other evidence of an intention to create an employer/worker relationship between the company and a director or directors, we will not seek to argue that an implied contract of employment exists.

You can find more information about employment contracts on the employment status section of the GOV.UK website.

If an individual is a director of one company and works for another company as an ordinary member of staff, they will still be a worker as far as the second company is concerned, even if they are not a worker in respect of the first company because they are a director.

Directors without an employment contract

If a director does not have an employment contract, they cannot be a worker and are therefore always exempt from automatic enrolment.

This means that an organisation with one or more directors who do not have contracts of employment is not an employer if it does not have any staff other than the director(s).

The company will have no automatic enrolment duties and does not need to complete a declaration of compliance. In this case they should let us know that they're not an employer.

If the organisation does have other staff, it has duties in respect of those other staff and is an employer. If none of the other staff meet the age and earnings criteria for automatic enrolment, the company still has to complete a declaration of compliance.

If the company's circumstances change so that automatic enrolment duties apply, they'll need to inform us of this as soon as possible. For example if they took on a member of staff other than a director, or if at least two directors started working for them under contracts of employment.

Directors with an employment contract where there are no other members of staff

Even if a director does have a contract of employment, they are not classed as a worker if they are the only person in the company with an employment contract.

A one person company consisting of a single director is never considered an employer under automatic enrolment, whether the director has an employment contract or not.

This would be true even if there were other members of staff, such as other directors, as long as none of the other staff were working under employment contracts.

The director exemption from automatic enrolment only applies for the work they carry out for that company.

A one person company with a sole director will not need to complete a declaration of compliance and should tell us that they're not an employer.

Where a company has multiple directors and no other staff - and at least two of the directors have employment contracts - all the directors with employment contracts will be workers and subject to the automatic enrolment duties - and all those directors without employment contracts will not be.

If the company's circumstances change so that automatic enrolment duties apply, they'll need to inform us of this as soon as possible (for example if they took on another member of staff under a contract of employment).

Directors with an employment contract who are not the only members of staff

If a director has a contract of employment and is not the only person working for the company under an employment contract, they are not exempt.

Depending on their age and earnings, they may qualify for automatic enrolment and the company will have the option to put them into a pension.

If the company chooses not to automatically enrol a director who is or becomes eligible for automatic enrolment (see below), the director will retain the right to opt in or join a pension.

If such an organisation decides it does not wish to enrol any employed director who is eligible for automatic enrolment, and it has no other eligible staff, then it does not need to set up a pension scheme - but will need to make a declaration of compliance.

Organisations whose staff are all exempt

If the organisation has no workers, because all their staff are exempt, they will not need to complete a declaration of compliance.

If the organisation has received a letter from us saying they have a staging date, then they should let us know they are not an employer by completing our online form.

Please note that if there are staff who simply do not meet the age and earnings criteria for automatic enrolment but the exemptions do not apply, they do have legal duties and will need to complete a declaration of compliance.

If the company's circumstances change so that automatic enrolment duties apply, they'll need to inform us of this as soon as possible. For example if they took on a member of staff other than a director, or if at least two directors started working for them under contracts of employment.

When director-only organisations start to have duties

The organisation will start to have duties as soon as they become an employer for the first time, which is when they take on a new member of staff (whether a director or not) with an employment contract. If only new directors are taken on and they do not have contracts of employment, they are not classed as workers and would not trigger duties.

In the case of directors who are classed as workers, provided it has no other non-director staff, the organisation can choose whether to put them in a pension scheme or not. If the organisation chooses not to, it has to complete a declaration of compliance saying that it has not put any workers into a scheme.

Where an organisation has two directors - one with a contract of employment, and one without - the organisation will not be classed as an employer and will not have duties under automatic enrolment.

The moment this organisation takes on a new member of staff that has a contract of employment, the organisation will be classed as an employer and duties will be triggered.

The duties start date in this case would be the date the director with the employment contract began employment. However, at that time the organisation was exempt from the duties and not classed as an employer, therefore the duties are to be given effect from the date the second worker with the contract of employment started working for the organisation.

Other office-holders

The special rules for directors do not apply to other office-holders, such as trustees or company secretaries

These office-holders will be classed as workers and subject to the automatic enrolment duties if they have an employment contract with the organisation.

If they have no employment contract and only perform the duties of their office, they are not a worker and are exempt.

Where an office holder does have a contract of employment, it may not cover all of the work that they do for the company.

For example, a company secretary's contract might cover additional administrative services that they provide to the company, but not their official duties as company secretary. In this situation, the office-holder is classed as a worker, but only their income under the employment contract is counted for automatic enrolment purposes.

Married couples and civil partners

There are no special rules for directors who are married or in a civil partnership, as the duties are not affected by any family relationships.

If the only people working for the company are a married couple or civil partners and both are directors, they will both be workers if they both have contracts of employment with the company. If only one of them has an employment contract, or neither of them does, then neither of them will be workers and the company will not be an employer.

In the case of a company where one spouse or civil partner is the director and the other holds the office of company secretary (please note this is not the same as simply performing general secretarial work, which would not be exempt), exemption from automatic enrolment will depend on whether contracts of employment are held by each spouse or civil partner.

A number of different circumstances might arise, for example:

  • if both are directors and neither has a contract of employment, both will be exempt
  • if both are directors and one has a contract of employment but the other does not, both will be exempt
  • if one is a director and the other is not, and both have contracts of employment, the one who is a director will be exempt but the one who is not a director will not be exempt (depending on their age and earnings, they may qualify for automatic enrolment and need to be put into a pension)
  • if both have contracts of employment, neither is exempt and the company will have duties for both of them, even for a spouse or civil partner who is a director (although the company can choose not to automatically enrol a director - see below)
  • if one holds the office of company secretary but is not a director, they are only exempt if they do not have a contract of employment (for example, because they only perform the official duties of their office, such as submitting the annual return to Companies House)
  • if the company secretary has a contract of employment, they would not be exempt even if the contract only applies to additional work that they do over and above their official responsibilities

When you can choose whether or not to automatically enrol someone

There are some cases where an employer can decide whether or not to put someone in a pension scheme, if the member of staff has triggered automatic enrolment or re-enrolment, including people who:

  • are directors who are working under an employment contract, where there is at least one other worker working for the organisation under an employment contract
  • are in their notice period
  • have ceased active membership of a pension which is approved for use with automatic enrolment within the previous 12 months
  • are partners of limited liability partnership (LLP) companies, but are not salaried members under HMRC tax rules
  • have HMRC tax protected status

Whether or not they choose to automatically enrol any of these workers, the employer will need to communicate to them - and they will still need to make a declaration of compliance.

However, these individuals do have the right to opt in or join a pension scheme at any time and, if they do so, the employer cannot refuse to enrol them (except in the case where the employer has chosen to exclude people in their notice period, as these people lose the right to opt in or join).

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