Surrey's £30m payroll chaos causing people to miss mortgage and rent payments, say unions

Surrey County Council’s new £30 million payroll system has left staff “wiping tears of frustration and helplessness” over missed payments, it its claimed.
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It is claimed that the payroll system is paying employees the wrong wages, with reports that some are missing mortgage and rent payments, almost a year after it was introduced, unions have said. Workers on payroll and experiencing issues include teachers and firefighters.

The council brought in a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system last June and said it had “experienced some issues relating to payroll”.

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The council has said it was working continuously to improve the system but given its complexity, needed an ongoing programme of software upgrades and fixes to address issues that have arisen.

Surrey County Council’s new £30 million payroll system has left staff “wiping tears of frustration and helplessness” over missed payments, it its claimed.Surrey County Council’s new £30 million payroll system has left staff “wiping tears of frustration and helplessness” over missed payments, it its claimed.
Surrey County Council’s new £30 million payroll system has left staff “wiping tears of frustration and helplessness” over missed payments, it its claimed.

A permanent fix is not expected until early summer, Surrey County Council Trade Unions (SCCTU) has said.

The ERP was introduced last summer after the council was notified its previous payroll system, which was close to 20 years old, would no longer be supported with updates.

According to SCCTU, which is made up of 12 recognised bodies including Unison, NEU and Nasuwt: “All the trade unions in Surrey County Council have been helping distraught staff deal with pay errors month-on-month since June 2023.

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“These errors include large overpayments and underpayments, which have had dire reverberations for the staff in question.

“This includes employees being unable to make payments on their mortgage, rent, cars, and utilities.

“For single parents, lower paid staff, and staff who have their wages topped up by Universal Credit, the fallout from these mistakes have had a catastrophic effect on the mental health of staff and their families.”

They said in one extreme case a staff member confessed she and her children had to stay with her mother because they didn’t have money to buy electricity or food.

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The council said it does not have figures available for how many have been affected but say that the vast majority of cases have had minimal impact.

To make up the shortfall, the council has been making emergency payments with staff pleading the cases to their line managers, the union said.

Surrey UNISON estimates at least £100,000 has been paid in fees alone for emergency payments.

Overpayments can be equally problematic for low-paid staff who receive in-work benefits as they find themselves with too much money in their accounts and their top ups switched off – only to be out of pocket with the overpayment is clawed back, the unions said.

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As such, the unions are now in dispute with the council over its implementation and said they have no confidence in this new payroll system.

A spokesperson for Surrey County Council said: “Following the installation of a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system last summer, we have experienced some issues relating to payroll.

“We have put in place a number of workarounds and extra resource to try to minimise the impact on staff and schools, and a dedicated technical team is working to resolve underlying issues.

“The recovery plan is making good progress, with the number of errors reducing significantly over time including updating leavers’ processes and the school financial reporting system, and a programme of engagement clinics has also been coordinated to provide individual schools/settings with focused support.

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“We are still working through some of the issues and we are grateful to our staff and schools for both their efforts and patience as we continue to do this.

“Some level of disruption was expected throughout such a fundamental transition to a new system, but we are sorry for any inconvenience to employees and schools adversely affected; our primary focus has always been the welfare of our staff as we resolve any errors, and we will continue to work with them throughout this process.”