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Consumer rights: 'I was overpaid £13,000, now my boss wants it back'

A law-office worker is at loggerheads with his employer over excess wages paid in error and how to go about leaving inheritance gifts to children

Q: I started work at a law firm two years ago on a rolling three-month contract for three days a week. However, a few months into the job I thought I was being overpaid and talked to the relevant person. She said that I wasn't being overpaid and although I was surprised I thought I had done my duty. I discussed it with other people including a friend at another law firm who put the situation down to having been unemployed for six months before taking the job.

It wasn't unusual to go for three months without receiving a payslip. Towards the end of my first year, I mentioned my concerns to my boss. Eventually in April 2011 I was called to a meeting and told the accounts department had noticed I had been overpaid by more than £10,000. I was shocked but told them that I had reported my suspicions months before. I was asked if I had spent the money, which I had.

It seems the payroll company had entered my initial three-day week as a five-day week and the error had been compounded because when I started to work four days a week the payroll company had entered this as six days, meaning that I was also paid overtime rates for the sixth day. The accounts department was trying to get the money back from the payroll company "on my behalf".

A few weeks ago I was told I am expected to repay nearly £13,000 as negotiations with the payroll company have failed. I can work for one day extra a week for 28 months, repay monthly over more than 10 years or come up with another proposal of my own to clear the debt.

The firm is also now saying that they can't remember our original conversation. I haven't even been given a breakdown of the money I'm told I owe.

EL, London

A: If you refuse to come to an arrangement your employer has two courses of action. It could take you to court for a judge to decide how much, if any, of the money you should repay. Or it could make deductions from your salary.

A judge will look at whether your position has so changed that the injustice of requiring you to make restitution is greater than the injustice to your employer of not ordering it. All sorts of issues would be considered such as whether you have the money, if not what you've done with it, how much effort you put into reporting the overpayment, should you have put more effort into that, the absence of payslips, the amount of repayments the employer is willing to accept over what period and how much difficulty that would cause you. You might be made to repay some, all or none of the money.

In most cases, an employer can only lawfully make a deduction from an employee's pay if the deduction is required to be made by law such as tax and National Insurance, the deduction is allowed for by your contract (eg pension contributions), or you have agreed to it in writing before it's deducted. However, if there has been a genuine overpayment of your wages, your employer doesn't need your consent to recover the money. It can make deductions without your agreement. You might decide to take a case against it at an employment tribunal. Neither of these is likely to result in a good future working relationship. Talk it over with an adviser who specialises in employment law. Check for a law centre at www.lawcentres.org.uk. Most of them have employment experts who offer free advice. And maybe your boss doesn't know that all employees are entitled to an individual written payslip, at or before the time they are paid.



Q: I don't have any children, but I have a small house and a little money so I want it to leave it all divided up between my nieces and nephews as well as the children of some close friends. Do I have to leave these gifts in trust until they are 18 or can they have it straight away if something should happen to me? I'm not talking about big amounts.

KB, Darlington


A: Normally if you give a gift to a child it will be held by your executors for safekeeping and management until the child is 18 years old. But you could say in your will that the child's parent or guardian should take receipt of the gift on the child's behalf. Trusts are a common way to pass gifts to children. A trust is a legal arrangement that allows assets such as property or money to be looked after for the beneficiaries named in the will. By putting the property or money you want to leave them into a trust it can be properly managed until the children are old enough legally to take possession of it. Some types of trust allow the beneficiary (the children) to receive an income from the property or money invested on their behalf. Don't make this kind of will yourself ; there's too much that can go wrong. Find a solicitor with experience of trusts to do it for you.