‘It’s a farce’ – Essex school payroll failure angers teachers and staff

Essex County Council headquarters in Chelmsford. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Essex County Council headquarters in Chelmsford. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR - Credit: Lucy taylor

Around 20,000 Essex school employees, including teachers, are not getting paid today ahead of the bank holiday weekend due to a computer error at Essex County Council (ECC). One teacher described the situation as a “farce”.

The authority has apologised and written to schools after announcing yesterday that around 20,000 school staff would not be getting paid in time this month due to “an internal process failure”.

The council has also defended alleged “rumours” that they knew about the problem on Monday, insisting they were only told yesterday (Thursday, August 24). The authority broke the news on their social media channels in the late afternoon.

The confirmed phone number for anyone affected is: 03457 430430.

ECC dealt with over 1,200 calls and gave around 100 emergency payments to staff today.

• List of all 308 schools affected.

• FAQ for anyone hit by the problems.

Thomas Kilby, a lead co-educator at a special school in Colchester, said: “There’s little I can say that hasn’t been already said. Their (ECC) response has been shambolic, the phone line waiting times are upward of an hour, and at least one of the numbers granted can offer little to no assistance other than putting you in another queue.

“Both my wife and I are employed as learning supports at a special school, and we have little enough money as it is. This will hit us hard.

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“ECC’s response has been far from stellar, and different staff are being told different stories.

“I’ve been able to borrow money to defend the bottom line of my account, but that’s going to have to be paid back too. The situation is a farce.”

Another Colchester teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “They don’t seem to understand that this whole thing is unacceptable.

“I was on hold to payroll for 40 minutes with no answer. I got through on the general line to have it confirmed that I will not be paid until Tuesday. To complain, I have to get through to payroll! The guy suggested trying later. They will not be able to deal with 20,000 calls by 4.30pm.

“Whilst we can claim bank charges what about all the plans that people have made that have to be cancelled? It isn’t acceptable how this is being handled.”

Elsewhere on Twitter, user Mrs W wrote: “Congratulations on your schools results, incidentally we aren’t paying you until Tuesday. Sort it out Essex, not good enough and not fair.”

Twitter user Pigletpink added: “A letter of apology just isn’t good enough. Leaving staff without funds over a Bank Holiday weekend is unforgivable.”

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “We are sorry that people experienced longer than usual waits to speak to our advisors this morning. As you might expect, in the first two hours the helpline was available we experienced a very high volume of calls. We were able to introduce extra capacity onto our systems before 11am and we saw call waiting times return to an acceptable level.

“We don’t believe we have offered mixed messages to people – there is a single set of FAQs on our website. And if people do incur extra bank charges then ECC will ensure these are covered. We do not believe this will be the case, however, as the banks have told us they will be sympathetic in the circumstances. We would advise people to contact their bank or building society as soon as possible if they have concerns.”

Tracy Sparks, regional organiser at Unison, said: “Support staff are predominantly low-paid staff and this could have an effect if they have direct debits going out.

“I hope Essex County Council will deal with any hardship payments urgently.”

Louise McKinlay, cabinet for resources at ECC, said on Friday evening: “We are extremely sorry that this error happened but we have been working hard today, and will continue to do so over the weekend, to offer help and advice to schools staff.

“A full investigation has been launched to understand why our systems failed, so we can ensure this does not happen again. I would like to thank all the staff who contacted us today for their patience in waiting to get through on our phone lines – we dealt with over 1,200 calls on Friday morning alone.”

On Facebook, ECC added in a post earlier on Friday: “There are rumours circulating we were aware of this issue on Monday. Please be assured that this issue was raised yesterday and actions taken immediately.”

The authority added on Facebook: “There have been letters sent to all the school staff employees who have been affected. We use social media as it is the quickest way to get the message sent out as quickly as possible.”

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