Overpayments? What to do

The branch has received reports from a number of members who left schools last July but have only recently received requests to repay overpayments made to them at the end of their previous employment.

In part this arises due to the confusion over how support staff are paid.

Term-time staff in West Sussex are not paid when they are not working outside of terms (only their contractual holiday entitlement). Instead they receive their pay spread over 12 equal paydays. So staff who finish work at the end of the summer term will usually not receive payment for August, even when their contractual notice is given late and runs through August.

Late discovery of overpayments
And mistakes can be made.  Sometimes this is due to the school not returning leavers’ forms on time. Sometimes there are issues within the central admin of school payroll, which is  undoubtedly a complex matter. But what had happened here was alarming because the overpayments were not been picked up until very late in January/ February. So our members had reasonably assumed that payments made six months ago were theirs, and spent the money. The failure to administrate school payroll overpayment reclaims in a timely manner is down to both Capita and West Sussex County Council (WSCC) who manage the contract. But it is our members who are landed with repayment claims for overpayments made in distant memory.

In these circumstances, it is possible to make a defence against having to make repayments.

A legal principle known as estoppel says that when someone can reasonably assume the money to be theirs and has spent it, they need not pay it back. If you’re in this situation, contact the UNISON office for advice and we will support you, as we are currently supporting a group of members.

We have also told WSCC and Capita how their actions have upset staff, and of our belief that it’s unnecessary to make reclaims at this very late stage.

Contract improvements?
The Council and Capita are working to improve school payroll services (going so far as to appoint to a new troubleshooter role to ensure lessons are learned and processes amended) But clearly there were issues last summer which are still working through. Given we know some schools are citing problems with payroll services as reason to academise, this is really troubling. It’s an indictment of county policy and performance. The new WSCC chief executive has pledged to improve the Capita contract. That contract will be five years old in October, so we will all be looking to see real improvement by that anniversary, and not changes that would endanger progress made or further reduce the county’s strategic control of essential payroll and back office services.

Read more on how to escalate payroll issues.