Best auto-enrolment pension providers

If your small business needs to provide a pension for its employees, check out our guide to the best workplace pension providers here

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Choosing a pension provider for your small business is a major decision, and it can be difficult to know how to make the right choice for your business’ needs.

Taking into account factors such as accessibility, compatibility and costs, we’ll guide you through some of the best pension providers in the UK.

Are you looking for a pension provider with no (or minimal) upfront costs? Or is your small business in need of a scheme that’s quick and easy to set up? We’ll provide the information you need to know to help you select a scheme that’s most suitable for your start-up.

In this article, we profile:

You can click on the links above to be taken straight to that section to learn about that particular provider. Or, read the whole article for a complete guide to the best workplace pension providers.

Alternatively, if you’re ready to compare quotes for auto enrolment straight away, simply fill in the form at the top of the page.

What’s on this page?

Best pension providersAviva Pensions logo

Aviva is a British multi-insurance company with a London headquarters. The company has grown to become one of the largest pension providers in the world. Across its services, Aviva has 33 million customers globally, including more than 15 million customers across the UK.

Aviva’s service offers a range of features, and also provides access to various insurance options, which can help businesses to ensure that every aspect of their responsibility – in terms of auto enrolment, pensions, and workplace insurance – is covered.

Aviva’s auto enrolment service is fast, simple, and designed to be accessed by businesses of any size.It only takes ten minutes to apply for the pension service, with no set-up fees. Once you have completed this part of the process, the rest will be handled externally, with minimal input from you.

As well as offering a top-range service, the Aviva pension packages available include 200 investment fund options, including ethical and sharia options.Additionally, your staff will be able to access a free online management dashboard, with up to 20% off other selected Aviva products.

Aviva is best for its global popularity, and its accessibility for any size of business.

However, due to the size and scale of its operations, some start-ups and small businesses may feel lost amongst all of Aviva’s customers.


  1. Well-known and established brand
  2. Services are accessible for any size of business
  3. Support team is based in the UK
  4. Offers 200+ investment options, including ethical and sharia funds


  1. Large size and scale may be off-putting for the smallest of start-ups
  2. Multiple insurance options mean that Aviva isn’t solely focused on pension schemes

Creative Auto Enrolment logo
Creative Auto Enrolment

Creative Auto Enrolment endeavours to take all the stress out of auto enrolment for workplace pensions, offering a complete ‘one-stop-shop’ online solution.

Its offering includes not only the pension scheme set up, but also the ongoing communication and administration. In addition, both you and your employees have access to a dedicated helpline, enabling you to contact support if needed.

Creative Auto Enrolment operates slightly differently from other providers, in that it manages the auto enrolment process after you have closed your payroll run. This means that it will never risk interfering with the usual process. Communication between your payroll and Creative Auto Enrolment is vital for this to work.

Creative Auto Enrolment invests all of your member’s contributions into Scottish Widows, offering security and reliability.

Fees include a setup cost, which is levied as a £20 per month (plus VAT) fee no matter how many workers you enrol. This makes it ideal for small and growing businesses. Employees also pay fees of 0.4% per month.

Creative Auto Enrolment is best for its ‘one-stop-shop’ online solution and ongoing support.

However, its online solution might not be suited to – or accessible for – all types of businesses.


  1. Support available via a helpline
  2. Auto enrolment process is managed uniquely (after payroll run has closed)
  3. Online solution
  4. Part of the Creative Benefits group, Chartered Financial Planners


  1. Online solution may not be suitable for all business types
  2. Creative Auto Enrolment relies on communication with your payroll provider

NEST Pension logo

NEST is the National Employment Savings Trust, set up by the government to facilitate auto enrolment pensions. It has been created specifically to meet the needs of auto enrolment, making it an attractive, straight-forward option.

There are no shareholders or owners, making it unique in that regard, and able to keep its fees low.NEST operates through an online platform, making NEST easy, efficient, and fast. Workers can log in to view their own pension savings, while NEST is free for employers to use in terms of both setup and ongoing costs, and members of the scheme are charged in accordance with a clear pricing structure for whichever fund they opt for.

With a range of options and products to choose from, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. NEST don’t charge for transfers in and out of its funds, either.

Since NEST does not need to make a profit for shareholders, its charges are designed to only cover their running costs. Charges for members are broken down into two parts: an annual management charge (AMC) of 0.3% of the total value of each member’s fund, and a contribution charge of 1.8% on each new contribution made into a member’s pension scheme.

As it’s a public corporation and a government-run fund, NEST is best for low fees.

However, NEST may not be the most suitable choice for businesses wanting to use the same provider for multiple services, as it’s designed for auto enrolment specifically.


  1. Government-run fund with low fees
  2. Easy to use online platform
  3. Free for employers to use
  4. Range of options and products


  1. Set up for auto enrolment only
  2. As it’s a public corporation, it may not be suitable for businesses wanting to use a private provider

Now: Pensions logo
Now: Pensions

Now: Pensions is proving to be a popular choice for small businesses looking to set up their auto enrolment company pension scheme.

Now: Pensions offers a relatively straight-forward and easy to set up system, but its fees need slightly more understanding. Employer service charges are offered on a monthly basis, and fees will depend on if you work with Now: Pensions directly, or through a payroll bureau microsite.

As the employer, you will need to pay a monthly employer’s service charge. This covers the scheme set-up and ongoing support, as well as communications.

Additionally, members of the scheme will be subject to a monthly active member fee, which is dependent on their earnings.

Enabling you to meet your obligations with regards to auto enrolment, Now: Pensions also removes much of the administrative burden.The setup process is web-based, making it quick and easy, and a support team is on hand to help should you need them. Through its Pensions Gateway site, you can be sure of security, as well as 24/7 access.

Now: Pensions is best for its straight-forward and easy to set up process.

However, its pricing structure is more complex than some other providers.


  1. Straight-forward and easy to use set-up process
  2. Online setup process with 24/7 access
  3. Support team is available
  4. Communications with workers can be managed


  1. More complex pricing structure
  2. There is a cost to employers to setup and use it on an ongoing basis

Smart Pension logo
Smart Pension

Smart Pension offers an auto enrolment pension scheme for small businesses without any upfront charges, making it an enticing and worthwhile option for many small businesses in the UK.

Smart Pension does not have many fees at all compared with other workplace pension providers. There are no setup fees for the standard service, and ongoing charges only apply to certain memberships, which you find out about upon joining. There is also no lock-in, meaning it won’t cost you to leave at any point.

Smart Pension’s advanced technology platform is ahead of the curve, ensuring a fast and secure service. This means that the Smart Pension scheme is quick and easy to set up, and takes much of the legwork out of assessing your staff, generating letters, and communications. Staff are also on hand to offer you compliance advice.

Additionally, you can choose between the Smart Pension workforce assessment tool, or your own existing payroll software. The scheme is compatible with a range of payroll software, including Sage.

All Smart Pension funds are invested in blue chip providers like Legal & General, meaning that there are reduced risks. It offers a secure investment choice, and is Master Trust Assurance Framework (MAF) accredited.Smart Pension has a team of experienced professionals who have a strong track record of successfully managing funds.

Smart Pension is best for its no upfront costs, and its compatibility with a range of payroll software.

But depending on your membership, some ongoing charges may apply.


  1. No setup charges
  2. Choice of Smart Pension tool or your own payroll software
  3. Invested in recognised funds
  4. Master Trust Assurance Framework (MAF) accredited


  1. Some ongoing fees may still apply
  2. Only one ethical fund option

The People's Pension logo
The People’s Pension

The People’s Pension is designed specifically with small businesses in mind, aiming to make auto enrolment straight-forward and easy. Nevertheless, it’s hugely popular – in fact, it’s one of the largest master trust schemes, with 4 million members. It’s also been awarded a five star rating by Defaqto.

For employers, there is a clear one-off setup fee of £500 plus VAT, which can be reduced to £300 plus VAT if you go through a business adviser. There are no ongoing fees for employers.

Employees who are members of the scheme will be subject to a 0.5% annual management charge.

The People’s Pension is a valuable choice for small businesses because of its clear upfront pricing structure, as well as the support offered to ensure you are compliant and meet the relevant regulations. UK-based support is on hand, through an award-winning contact centre.

There are two different sign-up options for employers. Choose from ‘Simply Comply’ if you pay your employees weekly or monthly, or ‘Simply Tailor’ if you need a more bespoke arrangement with different amounts paid in for different employees, or need to enact postponement.

The People’s Pension is best for workplace pensions schemes specifically for small businesses, without ongoing fees.

On the other hand, it charges a setup fee.


  1. No ongoing fees
  2. Two different sign-up options depending on your business’ payroll needs
  3. Designed specifically for small businesses
  4. Support team is based in the UK


  1. Setup fee of £500 plus VAT
  2. May not be able to accommodate the requirements of growing or larger businesses


1. Why does my company need pension auto enrolment?

Pension auto enrolment is a government-led initiative in the UK to ensure workers are saving enough for their retirement. Its aim is to ensure that everyone who should be saving for retirement is doing so, automatically.

In the past, the onus was on individuals to voluntarily sign up to a pension, or for an employer to encourage employees to join their company pension schemes. Employers did not even have to offer a company pension scheme in the first place. Now, it’s no longer a choice but an obligation – you must automatically enrol eligible workers, and contribute.

The requirements for workplace pension auto enrolment have been phased in over the last few years. By the beginning of February 2018, all eligible workers in the UK should have been enrolled into a workplace company pension scheme.

As a small business, you will have been given a specific date by which you need to have selected an auto enrolment pension scheme, and to have enrolled eligible workers. This will be a much later date than other bigger employers, who have likely already faced – and scaled – the hurdle. This date is referred to as the ‘staging date’.

As a result of the staging dates, it is vital that you review auto enrolment providers and small company pension schemes as soon as possible, in order to make the best possible choice for both you as an employer, and for your workers.

2. Which auto enrolment pension provider is right for me?

When considering auto enrolment pension scheme providers, it can become confusing and difficult to work out which company and scheme will work best for your business. There are a number of different factors you need to consider:

Automatic enrolment

It seems obvious, but not all schemes or providers are actually auto enrolment pension providers. Auto enrolment providers are those which offer schemes which facilitate automatic enrolment of eligible workers into the scheme. Your employees should not have to do anything to facilitate this.

Tax registration

Your chosen auto enrolment pension scheme must be tax registered in the UK.

Minimum contributions

You will be required to meet minimum contributions to the scheme. This will depend on the nature of the pension auto enrolment scheme you choose. Some have lower minimum payments than others.

Additionally, you will need to decide whether you wish to make just the minimum legally required contributions for your workers, or to go above and beyond.

Default fund charges

The default fund charges with the workplace pension scheme providers you choose must be within the 0.75% charge cap. You also need to consider the different investment options available, and how secure the options will be.

Payroll administration and compatibility

Your chosen auto enrolment pension scheme should be straight-forward and easy to administer within your payroll service. This means your payroll provider or in-house service needs to be able to provide the scheme provider with the relevant data and information, and/or process and handle the administration for the scheme.


Will your chosen scheme communicate directly with, or help with communications to employees about their auto enrolment pension?


You should also consider whether the automatic enrolment pension scheme you select offers administrative support, including processing opt-ins, or assessing eligible workers.

Current scheme

Check whether your current scheme meets the requirements of a government pension auto enrolment scheme. Furthermore, consider whether it is best for your business and employee needs compared to other options. is reader-supported. If you make a purchase through the links on our site, we may earn a commission from the retailers of the products we have reviewed. This helps to provide free reviews for our readers. It has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews.

Smart PensionLondon2014No upfront costs & compatible with a range of payroll software
NESTLondon1998Government run with low fees
Now: PensionsDenmark1964Straight-forward & easy to set up
Creative Auto EnrolmentLondonN/AOne-stop-shop online solution & ongoing support
The People’s PensionSussex2011Designed for small businesses & no ongoing fees
AvivaLondon2000One of the most popular providers in the world & accessible by any size business
Provider nameBest for
Creative Auto EnrolmentSupport
NESTLow fees
Now: PensionsEasy to set up
Smart PensionIntegrations
The People’s PensionSmall businesses
Written by:
Scarlett writes for the energy and HR sections of the site, as well as managing the Just Started profiles. Scarlett is passionate about championing equality and sustainability in business.
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