If you employ only entitled* or non-eligible** staff then you don’t have an immediate duty to set up a qualifying pension scheme.
You will need to have a workplace pension by your duty date or shortly after only if any of your staff are between 22 and the State Pension Age and earn over £10,000 a year.
If they’re earning less than this then the pressure is off somewhat. You’ll still need to assess your employees on their first day of employment and let them know about auto-enrolment and their right to opt-in.
But if an ‘entitled’ employee asks to join a scheme you have as long as you like to set it up and you won’t have to pay into it. If a ‘non-eligible’ employee opts in then you’ll have six weeks to set the scheme up following the next pay reference date after the date that employee has opted in. You will also have to contribute to the pension scheme.
Even if you don’t set up a scheme you’ll need to fill in a declaration of compliance to say that you had no eligible staff to enrol on your duty date. If you don’t do this you could end up in trouble with The Pensions Regulator and face paying a fine.
*Entitled employees have the right to join a scheme but you don’t have to contribute.
**Non-eligible employees have the right to opt-in and you have to contribute.