IRELAND – The Irish pensions regulator has warned companies that they could face fines or prison sentences if they fail to comply with pensions legislation covering Personal Retirement Savings Accounts.

The Pensions Board has written to 64,000 companies saying: “Failure to comply with the legislation in relation to employer obligations is a criminal offence and could result in a fine of up to 12,700 euros and/or up to two years imprisonment.”

By law, all employers are required to enter a contract with a PRSA provider so that access to at least one standard PRSA is available for all so-called "excluded employees”, the board said. The new PRSAs have an asset value of around 83.6 million euros.

“We are writing to employers identified from our database as possibly having excluded employees to ascertain whether they are compliant with this legal obligation,” said the board’s head of PRSAs, Philip Dalton, in the letter.

“To avoid a Pensions Board audit and possible future criminal proceedings please complete and return the questionnaire by 30 September 2004.”

The board said its key area of concern is among small employers particularly in the services, hospitality, retail and farming sectors.

Six prosecutions are already in progress, a board spokesman said. Asked if people would in fact go to prison, he said: “The law provides for it.” But he said the legal route is just one way of trying to get the message across. The board is organising a pensions awareness week from September 13-16.

Last month IPE reported that the regulator spends more on office rent than on its pensions awareness campaign.