NHS worker caught claiming two salaries

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Justice

Ann Barnes, a 47-year-old NHS telephone operator from Crumlin in South Wales, has been found guilty of stealing £13,000 - after she was accidentally overpaid by the health service.

So how was she caught, and how common is this?


Overpaid

The BBC reported that Barnes worked part-time as a telephone operator. She only worked 16 and a half hours a week, but after she was promoted, the payroll system accidentally started paying her two salaries instead of one. Over a two year period it paid her £13,000 a year too much.

Instead of reporting the mistake, Barnes took the cash, which she used to build an extension on her house and buy luxuries - including a ballgown for her daughter and a hot tub.

Caught

According to the Daily Mail, her manager got suspicious, as Barnes had gone from struggling for cash to boasting about the things she had bought.

She told the court that she had offered Barnes the chance to work over a bank holiday, because she had been talking about money worries, and was shocked when she said she couldn't do it because she was going out for dinner.

She contacted payroll, who discovered she was receiving two salaries, but Barnes told them she actually had two NHS jobs and continued claiming the money.

When her crime was eventually discovered, she admitted stealing £13,326. Her husband had been made redundant and she used his pay-off to pay all the money back. However the Judge told her: "You cannot pay your way out of it".

She was spared jail, but given a five-month suspended sentence with 80 hours of unpaid work. She also had to pay £1,600 investigation costs.

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Not uncommon

It sounds strange that the NHS could be paying this sort of money out without noticing. However, this is far from unusual. The Health Service Journal investigated the phenomenon at the beginning of this year, and discovered that Barts and The London NHS Trust overpaid staff a massive £995,000 in one year. That included one doctor who was overpaid £126,000 over a period of two years.

Both public and private companies can fall prey to poor administration which can lead to this sort of thing. It may be that they pay you too much, pay you for overtime you haven't done, or make a mess of taking tax off your pay.

If it happens to you, it's important to get it corrected immediately. When your employer discovers the overpayment, they have the right to get the money back by deducting the over-payments from your future salary. If you let a problem continue for a while, you will end up having to pay back a significant sum.

The only exception to this is where the overpayment has gone on for some time, you can prove you didn't know it wasn't your money, and you have spent it. In that instance you may be able to negotiate with your employer to try to have some of it written off.

They may stand their ground, in which case you will have to either agree to pay, or consider fighting the issue in court. This is only worthwhile if the sum is very large and you have watertight case to prove you were not responsible, have never provided any incorrect information to your employer, and did not know about the over-payments until it was too late.