The council risks being seen as tough on members of the public but not on big employers when it comes to chasing late payments.

That was the view of Hem Savla, employee representative on Barnet’s pension board, who asked why the borough’s employers were not being penalised for making late pension payments.

His comments came after a report by The Pensions Regulator found Barnet Council’s pension fund “experienced a catalogue of errors, including £1.7 million of late contributions and a lack of clarity over its member data”.

At a meeting of the local pension board on Tuesday (November 19), Mr Savla drew attention to late payments in the Capita performance report for September 2019.

The report says two organisations – Absolutely Catering – St James and Menorah Foundation School – failed to pay their August contributions to the pension fund.

Mr Savla said: “You now have the facility to penalise – to raise an invoice – for late payments in order to shape [employers’] behaviour.

“I think the board has mentioned before that that should be done. Is there any reason why invoices for penalties have not been raised?”

George Bruce, the council’s head of treasury, said chasing payments was an informal process that involved a discussion with employers to understand the reason for non-payment.

He added that the council had “not really had the time to chase employers as we would like to” but would start looking at the issue now that more resources had been put into the pension team.

But Mr Savla said: “When a member of the public looks at this, the only conclusion they will draw is you may be raising invoices on time, but we are not very good at chasing them.

“There are a lot of people in the community who are being chased for council tax, which are around £2,000, whereas the big amounts in here no-one seems to be chasing.

“The perception in the mind of a member of the public is you don’t chase the chase big boys, but you chase the small boys. That is not good PR for Barnet Council.”

Nigel Keogh, interim pension manager, said the ability for council officers to issue penalties for late or non-payments was “permissive, not mandatory”.

But Mr Savla pointed out that it could be considered discriminatory if the council invoiced one employer and not another without following set criteria.

Mr Keogh said the council would prefer not to invoice anyone at all because it imposes “an additional cost on employers”.

He added: “We would try and resolve matters without that being necessary.”

Mr Bruce said: “I take the points that have been made and will come back with a fully scoped-out policy on how we use the power within the administration strategy statement to levy fines on employers, including a definition of materiality.”