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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 48192
Experience:  Qualified Solicitor - Please start your question with 'For Ben Jones'
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Hi, I am a PhD student in my 3rd year at University and

Resolved Question:

Hi,

I am a PhD student in my 3rd year at University and I've recently found out that I might have been being over paid since I started the job 3 years ago. This is because I was recently CC'd into an email my boss sent to someone that had my stipend details in the attachment. I had never seen this document before so when I registered with the university I just assumed that my payments were correct but I seem to get getting about £300 more each month than what it says in the stipend details. My question is whether the University can demand that I pay all the money back if it does come to light that I have been paid too much? Thank you
Thank you
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 3 years ago.

Ben Jones :

Hello, my name is XXXXX XXXXX it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today. Are you employed by the university?

Customer:

I recieve a monthly stipend from a government charity but the university of glasgow deals with my payments

Customer:

And I was never given a contract specifying how much my yearly stipend would be. I just registered my bank details with the university

Ben Jones :

A stipend is distinct from the traditional meaning of wages or salary so it will not be covered by the usual employment laws that deal with this. I have not seen any cases that deal with an overpayment of stipend and most deal with overpayments of wages. I presume the principles would be similar so I can give you examples of wage overpayments and how the courts would deal with that?

Customer:

Yes that would be fine, thank you

Ben Jones :

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:



  • The overpayments were made due to an error by the employer

  • The employee genuinely believed they were entitled to the money, or did not even realise that they were being overpaid

  • The employee has since 'changed their position', meaning they have spent the money in question


 


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.


 

Customer:

I had no idea that I might be getting overpaid because I wasn't shown the annual stipend agreement and the payments I do receive each month tend to fluctuate. Additionally when I started I was a young niave student and didn't understand the terms of the stipend. I still don't fully understand where my stipend is coming. I think at the begining my employer should have explained it to me. Now I've spent most of the money and I'm worried that they will contact me soon saying they've noticed the discrepancy. So you think that based on the fact that it is the error of university and that I didn't know how stipends really worked that it's unlikely I'll have to pay the money back?

Ben Jones :

it is of course not possible to guarantee that bit if they were to try and recover the money they have overpaid by taking you to court, the above is certainly a defence you can raise although only a judge can decide if it would apply or not

Customer:

OK, thank you for your advice

Ben Jones :

you re most welcome, all the best

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