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July 19, 2023

Ireland Pensions Auto Enrolment: Eligibility, Cost, Benefits & FAQs

Auto-enrolment is a pension savings scheme expected to launch in Ireland in 2024. Learn how it works, eligibility, employer obligations, benefits, and FAQs.

Aine Kavanagh

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Aine Kavanagh

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The auto-enrolment pension scheme is a semi-mandatory retirement saving system expected to come into effect in Ireland in 2024. 

It aims to:

  • Offer support and pension coverage to Irish workers post-retirement. 

  • Simplify employee pension enrolment. 

  • Make it easier for employers to provide an occupational pension scheme.

Let’s learn more about Ireland’s auto-enrolment scheme.

What Is the Irish Pension Auto-Enrolment Scheme?

Automatic enrolment is a pension saving plan proposed by the Irish government’s Department of Social Protection to ensure every Irish worker has access to a workplace pension to supplement their State Pension. 

The Minister of Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, announced in October 2022 that the auto-enrolment scheme would be up and running by 2024. The Oireachtas has already published a preliminary report on the proposed scheme.

The employee, employer, and government will contribute to the employee's workplace pension fund in this new scheme. 

Why is an auto-enrolment pension necessary?

At present, more than 750,000 Irish workers don’t have access to a workplace pension scheme. So they rely heavily on their State Pension post-retirement, which may not be enough to sustain them. 

And that’s where the proposed auto-enrolment scheme comes in. 

It will allow employees to have extra money when they retire — they won’t have to rely solely on the State Pension anymore.

How Does Auto-Enrolment Work in Ireland?

All eligible Irish employees not currently enrolled in a workplace pension will be automatically added to the auto-enrolment pension scheme.

Here’s an overview of how it works:

1. Eligibility    

To be eligible for automatic enrolment, the worker must be:

  • 23 to 60 years old 

  • Earning more than €20,000 per year

Employees not meeting the required age and salary criteria can opt to enrol in this scheme — provided they don't already have a workplace pension scheme membership.

The Irish government will set up the Central Processing Authority (CPA), an independent body to administer the scheme, once the auto-enrolment scheme comes into effect. If your employees are on probation or working casual or part-time, the CPA will determine their eligibility for auto-enrolment.

2. Employee, Employer, and Government Contributions  

In the auto-enrolment retirement savings system, the government will contribute to the employee’s pension pot on top of employee and employer contributions.  

As an employer, you must match your employee's contributions to a specific limit.  

How do these contributions work?

The scheme will be implemented in phases, increasing contributions every three years. 

In phase 1, the proposed yearly contributions to the retirement fund will be:

  • Employer and employee contributions: 1.5% each of gross pay

  • Government’s contribution: 0.5% of gross pay

  • Total contribution (employer + employee + government): 3.5%  

Similarly, the contribution rates for employers and employees for the coming years will increase to:

  • 3% in years 4-6 

  • 4.5% in years 7-9, and,

  • 6% in years 10 onwards

Here’s an example: 

Let’s say Saoirse, who makes €20,000 per year, contributes 1.5% of her gross pay, i.e., €300,  to her pension fund. 

Then, her employer must also contribute €300. The state will top this up by contributing 0.5%, i.e., €100, to her pension pot. 

So a total of €700 will be added to Saoirse’s pension fund. 

But wait:

Employer contributions and government top-ups are capped at an income threshold of €80,000 gross annual salary.

This means the government and employers will only match employee contributions up to a maximum of €80,000 of earnings.

Employees earning more than €80,000 can still make higher contributions to the pension scheme — but the employer and the government won’t have to match the excess contributions.

The auto-enrolment contribution levels fixed by the government can’t be changed, and employees won’t be able to contribute an amount less than the set percentage for each year. 

What’s more?

Employee contributions will be deducted from their net income after income tax, pay-related social insurance (PRSI), and universal social charge (USC) have been deducted. 

Since the state tops up the pension fund, the auto-enrolment system isn’t included in the current tax relief framework for occupational plans.

3. Opt-In/Out and Postponement 

Auto-enrolment in Ireland will operate on an ‘opt-out’ rather than an opt-in basis. 

This is to encourage employees to understand and experience the benefits of retirement savings with the help of a pension plan.

What does that mean?

While all eligible employees will be automatically enrolled in the pension scheme, they can opt out or postpone their auto-enrolment after six months of joining.

Once they have postponed or opted out of auto-enrolment, they'll have a two-month window to receive a refund of their contributed money. Employees who don’t claim their refund within the given timeframe can opt out of the scheme without a refund. 

However, the contributions paid by employers and the state will remain in the pension pot.

The employee can postpone or opt out of the scheme for a limited time and will be automatically re-enrolled after two years. 

If employees want to opt out of the scheme again, they'll have to repeat the entire process. 

4. Moving Jobs 

The auto enrolment pension scheme is based on ‘pot follows the member’. 

The employee’s pension pot is not linked to the employer but follows the employee as they move jobs. 

So the worker or jobholder won't have to join a new pension scheme each time they change jobs, and all their savings will be combined in one pot throughout their working life.

How Should Employers Auto-Enrol Employees?

The rollout of the auto-enrolment scheme will ensure that employers don’t have to set up a pension scheme or invest with a pension provider, thereby reducing administrative costs.

However, they must identify and add eligible employees to the auto-enrolment scheme. 

Employers must:

  • Facilitate payroll deductions and ensure their payroll process is compatible with the auto-enrolment contribution requirements. 

  • Update employee employment contracts to ensure they're up to date with the pension provision for contributions and other legal requirements.

  • Communicate with employees — advise them on how the new system will benefit them and explain how the employee, employer, and state contributions will work.

Failure to implement a payroll process for enrolment or to deduct and remit contributions as the law requires may result in penalties or criminal prosecution.

Benefits of the Irish Auto-Enrolment Pension Scheme 

You probably have an idea of the auto-enrolment scheme’s benefits by now. 

Here’s a quick refresher. 

A. Benefits to Employers 

The auto-enrolment pension scheme allows employers to:

  • Save costs and reduce the administrative burden by not having to set up or run a workplace pension scheme.

  • Ensure their employees are looked after even in retirement.

  • Acquire talented employees and stay ahead of their competitors.

B. Benefits to Employees

By enrolling in this pension scheme, employees can:

  • Boost their retirement income as the state tops up employee and employer contributions.

  • Easily switch jobs without enrolling in a new company pension every time. 

  • View their account balances, investments, and contributions through an online portal.

  • Protect their contributions and investment returns since no one can access them.

How Will Auto-Enrolment Affect Casual/Temporary/Zero-Hour Workers in Ireland?

All existing and new employees will be evaluated for pension auto-enrolment systems eligibility and will be auto-enrolled if they fulfil the criteria. 

It doesn’t matter whether they are on probation or working casual or part-time. 

If the CPA (Central Processing Authority) determines an employee fits the eligibility criteria, auto-enrolment contributions from the employee, employers, and state will begin on the first paycheck following enrolment.

3 FAQs on Ireland’s Auto-Enrolment Pension Scheme 

Let’s answer three common questions around the pensions auto-enrolment scheme: 

1. What Happens to State Pension Scheme If Employees Opt for Auto-Enrolment Pension?

The auto-enrolment pension scheme will NOT change or replace the State Pension.

It’ll supplement the State Pension, giving all eligible Irish employees access to pension-saving schemes. 

When implemented, the auto-enrolment scheme will support more than 750,000 Irish workers who don't already have access to a pension scheme with extra retirement income.

2. How Is Auto-Enrolment Scheme Different from Workplace Pension Scheme?

In a workplace scheme (aka company pension schemes), both the employer and employee must contribute a minimum amount to the employee's pension fund.

The contribution rate has been fixed at a 5% minimum contribution for employees and a 3% minimum contribution for employers, making the total minimum contribution 8%. 

On the other hand:

In an auto-enrolment scheme, the government has set minimum contributions for the employers, employees, and the state, which increase every three years. 

The employer has to match employee contributions, and the state will also top-up these contributions by adding a fixed percentage of money to the employee’s pension pot. 

3. Do Other Countries Offer Auto-Enrolment? 

Ireland is the only OECD country (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) that doesn’t offer an automatic enrolment retirement saving system yet. 

Other OECD countries that have introduced the automatic enrolment retirement savings system at a national level to help their employees save for retirement include: 

  • The UK 

  • New Zealand

  • Poland

  • Italy

  • Turkey, and,

  • Lithuania

Offer & Manage Employee Pension Schemes with Yonder

The auto-enrolment pension scheme makes it easier for employers to offer occupational pension schemes to their employees without having to incur set-up and administrative costs. 

If you’re an employer with an existing pension scheme, you’ll have to: 

  • Open up your plan to every employee and automatically enrol those who aren't already members of the scheme. OR

  • Allow non-members to join the State’s auto-enrolment program.

But look: 

Offering workplace pension plans with greater benefits than the government's auto-enrolment scheme can help ensure your employees are well looked after in retirement. 

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Aine Kavanagh

Article written by

Aine Kavanagh

👋🏻 Hi I'm Aine, Head of Customer Success at Yonder. Whether you're a Yonder customer, a Yonder user, or you're just browsing, I hope to help educate and empower those who want to know more about owning their own benefits, and building financial autonomy 📚

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