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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Law
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I signed an agreement to repay exam/course fees if I left

Customer Question

i signed an agreement to repay exam/course fees if I left the employer. I have left and they are trying to recover the cost from me but despite asking for evidence of when they told me how much this would be they have not been able to do so. My question is am i still legally obliged to repay this even though i wasn't informed of the cost prior to starting the course? they deducted several hundred pound from my last pay packet with left me with no money whatsoever for that month. can I recover from them what they deducted? thanks.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

Hello, my name is***** am a qualified lawyer and it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today.

Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

How long ago did you leave. Also, how long did you work there please?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I left Nov 15. I worked for the company for just over 3 years but for the dept in question for approx 1 year.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

OK thank you, ***** ***** it with me. I am in court today so will prepare my advice during the day and get back to you at the earliest opportunity. There is no need to wait here as you will receive an email when I have responded. Thank you.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
thank you.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

Many thanks for your patience. Employers can spend a considerable amount of money on training their employees, only to see them leave shortly afterwards. In order to ensure that the employer can provide an employee with training and that the employee does not take advantage of the situation by leaving soon afterwards, it is common practice to have a repayment provision in the contract of employment. Under it the training costs are deemed to constitute a loan to the employee, which becomes repayable if they leave their employment within a certain period after the training completes.

Whilst it is legal to have such clauses, employers must be cautious to ensure that the amount of costs they are trying to recover is a genuine pre-estimate of the damages which they have suffered as a result of the employee leaving early. It is not a legal requirement to have stated the recoverable amount I advance, as long as what they eventually try to recover is fair and reasonable. In the event that it is not, such clauses could be considered a penalty against the employee, which would make it legally unenforceable. Therefore, if the employer has derived some benefit from the employee undertaking the training course during the fixed repayment period (e.g. where an employer has been able to charge customers more for an employee’s services by virtue of that training or qualification) then the amounts which may be recovered from the employee should be reduced to reflect that benefit.

The contract should also contain a sliding scale of repayment whereby the repayment amount reduces according to the length of time the employee remains with the employer after the training has been completed. For example, 100% of the fees to be repaid if the employee leaves within 0-12 months after the training has finished, 50% if they leave 12-24 months after, 25% if they leave 24 - 36 months after.

There are a couple of ways for the employer to try and recover these fees - by deducting them direct from the employee's wages or, if the employee has already left and paid up fully - by taking them to court.

Any deductions from the employee's wages can only lawfully take place if there was a clear written agreement by the employee allowing the employer to do this, such as a contractual clause or a separate agreement which they signed. In the absence of such an agreement the deduction will be unlawful and can be recovered. So if they have deducted costs without such an agreement you could try and recover that from them. However, even if they did not have the right to deduct them they can still make a separate claim under the training agreement for the costs they are genuinely trying to pursue.

This is your basic legal position. I have more detailed advice for you in terms of the steps you need to follow should you decide to take this further, which I wish to discuss so please take a second to leave a positive rating for the service so far (by selecting 3, 4 or 5 stars) and I can continue with that and answer any further questions you may have. Don’t worry, there is no extra cost and leaving a rating will not close the question and we can continue this discussion. Thank you

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Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hi, I'm not sure I explained properly that whilst I knew that I would have to pay something back, and what the percentages were, prior to starting the course I wasn't advised of how much it was costing. Had I known it was over £3000 I wouldn't have enrolled. Could you please clarify if your opinion remains the same. Thanks.
Expert:  Ben Jones replied 1 year ago.

Hi there, the lack of a figure in advance will not in itself automatically allow you to refuse to pay these costs. I think the issue then is whether these costs are reasonable taking into account the type and duration of training you undertook. So if such a course would on average cost £1000 to take but they are charging you £3000 then you can challenge these costs on grounds that they are unreasonable high for the type of training given. However, if the costs are reasonable then even in the absence of a figure in advance they can be recoverable.

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