Consumer Rights: 'My mum's bosses won't release her final pay packet'

A bereaved child must gather evidence he's entitled to his mother's wage and employing a tenant

Q: My mother died recently and I sorted out her very small estate. There was no will, my father is dead and I don't have any siblings. She had less than £5,000 in her bank account, so after I'd paid her bills I closed it and was given the remaining money being her next of kin. All I needed was the death certificate.

All was fine until I realised she had some wages owing to her. But her company won't pay. The HR department says their rules only allow them to pay directly into her account, and they can't pay me. It's not a huge sum but it would help as I've had quite a bit of unexpected expense as a result of her death. I can't reopen the account, so what am I to do?

DJ, Exeter

A: This seems unnecessarily bureaucratic and rather insensitive. There is no legal reason why the company can't pay you, so it's own internal rules must be the stumbling block.

It's likely they require someone to see documentary proof that you are the person authorised to deal with your mother's estate. This includes the authority to collect any outstanding money. A Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration (Grant of Confirmation in Scotland) is usually required before you can sort out someone's estate unless it's small.

A Grant of Probate is given by the Probate Registry (Sheriff's Court in Scotland) to the executor or executors of a will. Where there's no will, the next of kin or someone else close to the deceased can apply to the Probate Registry for Letters of Administration instead. These give you the authority to deal with the dead person's assets or estate – any money, property or other possessions. You can also use them to prove to anyone who asks for proof that you have that authority.

Where there is no will, there are very clear rules about who should inherit from the estate, how much and in what order family members inherit. In your case, because the amounts are small and it sounds like you are her closest relative, it would all go to you after bills and debts are cleared. There's more information at direct.gov.uk

If the employer won't play ball, clarify exactly what they do need in terms of documentation. You will have to apply to your nearest Probate Registry for the Letters of Administration.

If you get stuck or the employer is still unhelpful, ask someone at your nearest free advice centre such as the Citizens Advice Bureau to help. You don't want to spend too much money on legal advice when the amount outstanding is so small.

***

Q: I am on the board of an organisation that wants, coincidentally, to employ someone who is a tenant in one of our flats. The work is not related to the property. The managing director has been told if we give her the job, we will have to pay her wages and rent. I have done some research and I think we only have to pay the National Minimum Wage (unless we want to be more generous).

I can't see why it should cost more to employ someone who happens to live in a flat that the prospective employer owns. The MD thinks I'm wrong?

WS, Newcastle

A: If an employer and employee agree to a contract which says wages will be paid at a certain rate with some rent covered, that's up to them. Otherwise, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) applies. Under that legislation, and what I think your MD is referring to, there is an "accommodation offset".

If an employer provides a home, he can only count some of its value towards pay. This is called the accommodation offset. The employer can't count more than the accommodation offset rate that is in force – currently £4.73 a day. I called the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368 for clarification. The adviser said that as soon as landlord becomes employer the offset applies so, in effect, you would only be able to charge the £33.11 a week rent.

While you would lose rent by hiring a tenant, I'm sure you will want the best person for the job.

www.moneyagonyaunt.com

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