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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
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I worked months on a fixed

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I worked for Centrica for initially for 12 months on a fixed term contract which was then extended for 6 weeks. I received a final payment but no payslip as these were only accessable on line and access to same was terminated on my last day. A couple of months later i received a letter from Centrica saying that the payment was in error and I must repay it. At the time of leaving I was owed a number of holidays and a bonus. with no access to the pay slip i assumed the payment was to cover these items. Centrica are now saying this was not the case. The amount they are looking for me to repay is over £200 more than I was paid. they say that I did not hit the targets I was set, however i know i achieved all that was set out in my job desciption and they say i am not owed any holiday pay. This I also know to be wrong but as stated, since leaving i have no access to confirm any of the above. They say that they are going to pass this to a collection agency if I do not pay. This seems at the very least unfair as it was there mistake in the first place, if that's what it is? I am currently unemployed and do not have the means to repay them. This was spent in the full beleif that it was a payment i was entitled too. Any advice would be appreciated. thankyou.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 2 years ago.
Hello, my name is ***** ***** it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today. Do you agree that you have been overpaid as claimed?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

It depends on what would have been a fair bonus. It was discretionary on completion of contract???

I am also aware that other managers who were there longer than I was, received bonuses before being let go in the same way I was.

A months pay would have only been a bonus of approx 8%.

Given that I know I had holidays I had not taken, it was resonable to assume (without seeing a payslip) that I had received a bonus of approx 5%.

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 2 years ago.
The starting point is that if someone has genuinely been overpaid by their employer, then that is not money to which they are legally entitled and it should be repaid. However, an employee may be able to use the legal defence of ‘estoppel’ to resist an employer's recovery of an overpayment. One of the main cases dealing with this is that of County Council of Avon v Howlett. The employee was a teacher who was paid more sick pay than he was entitled to. The teacher queried the overpayments with the employer but was assured they were correct. By the time the Council had realised their mistake, the teacher had spent most of that money. The Court of Appeal held that the defence of estoppel prevented the employer from recovering the whole sum of the overpayment. The way estoppel operates is that if the following conditions are satisfied, then an employee should be able to use it as a defence to resist the recovery of an earlier overpayment:{C}· The overpayments were made due to an error by the employer{C}· The employee genuinely believed they were entitled to the money, or did not even realise that they were being overpaid{C}· The employee has since 'changed their position', meaning they have spent the money in question. However, this does not mean just spending it on usual items of expenditure, such as bills, everyday spending, etc – you must have gone out of your way and changed your position, such as making additional purchases which you would not have done had you not received that money. So whilst there is nothing stopping an employer from pursuing a claim to recover an overpayment, if the above conditions are satisfied then an employee could raise the defence of 'estoppel' and prevent the claim for proceeding any further. Even if the above does not apply, if the employer was to take this to court it would be for them to show that you were actually overpaid. They need to provide the evidence to back up the allegations that you were not due a bonus. A collection agency cannot do much apart from threaten you and try to pressure you to pay up – but they cannot force you to and if they can’t persuade you to pay then the only way the employer can try and get the money is to take you to the mall claims court and prove that you were actually overpaid. That is where you can raise the argument of estoppel or that you were actually due the money which you received. I trust this has answered your query. I would be grateful if you could please take a second to leave a positive rating (selecting 3, 4 or 5 starts at the top of the page). If for any reason you are unhappy with my response or if you need me to clarify anything before you go - please get back to me on here and I will assist further as best as I can. Thank you
Customer: replied 2 years ago.

Many thanks. I believe I satisfy all the conditions you have listed. One final thing, how would be best to reply to the letters from Centrica, sighting 'estoppel' as grounds to avoid repayment?

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 2 years ago.
You could just mention that and explain briefly why you believe it applies, using the information I supplied. All you can do is really is just raise it as a defence and advise them of that. It does not prevent them from pursuing this further through and they have the right to challenge it in court if they really want to go that far. However, just for £200 or so that may not be advisable as it would take up extra time and money to take it co court s they could just threaten you and then drop the matter when they realise you are not going to just pay. But only time will tell. If your original question has been answered I would be grateful if you could please quickly rate my answer by selecting 3, 4 or 5 starts at the top of the page - it only takes a second to do and is an important part of our process. I can still answer follow up questions afterwards if needed. Thank you
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