The husband of a former Homerton University Hospital employee has spoken of the couple’s shock after they received a demand for repayment of almost £7,000 in overpaid wages just weeks before Christmas.
Henry Jones* says his wife, who is heavily pregnant and wishes to remain anonymous, left her job at Homerton University Hospital in 2013 but was overpaid by approximately £4,300 following her departure.
He claims the first she knew of the need to repay the money was when a county court judgement (CCJ) was delivered to their home in late November, stating she now owed creditors approximately £6,900.
The CCJ was issued on 25 November and gave her a month to pay the sum – meaning payment was due on or before Christmas Day.
Jones told the Citizen on Christmas Eve: “We have had to pay it, including the £2,000 interest and £540 costs, so we just feel a bit disillusioned with it all now.”
The woman, speaking via her husband before repaying the money, said she was disappointed by how the NHS had treated her, and has been left upset and stressed over everything that has happened.
Jones said: “She’s worked for the NHS for almost ten years now, it’s the last thing she’d expect from her former employers, especially just before she’s going on maternity leave.
“It’s not a nice situation to receive that [CCJ] and be told we have to pay £7,000. I did ask in an email I sent [on 19 December] to the Homerton, if there’s really no payment plan we could set up directly with the hospital – we just don’t know what other avenues we could pursue.
“Maybe I’m being cynical but even the date of the day that it was issued, the 25 November to the 25 December, and it’s over six years ago that this happened, and they’ve waited until now. Maybe I’m just overthinking that.”
He added that unless an arrangement was reached with the hospital or CCI Credit Management, who had taken over efforts to have the overpayment returned, the couple would be forced to take out a loan, borrow money from their parents, or rely on savings they had set aside in preparation for the arrival of their first child early next year.
In a statement sent to the Citizen on 23 December, Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust said: “We are sorry that this issue has been escalated to a county court judgement at this time of the year, but this is a matter which has now been outstanding for over six years.”
The Trust confirmed that the overpayment had happened on three occasions over as many months, bringing the sum to a total of £4,300.
It added that after initial attempts to recover the overpayment, it entrusted the recovery to CCI, who it says contacted the couple over a dozen times at different addresses over the years, as they moved several times in this period.
After CCI identified the couple’s current address, it sent four letters, followed by a ‘letter before court’ in October 2019 giving notice of legal action.
However, Jones said that he and his wife had not been residing at this address for some time due to home renovations going on there before their new arrival.
The hospital’s statement added: “The Trust has an average of around 800 staff leaving during the year and there are instances when there is a delay in human resources instructing payroll of an individual’s departure.
“This leads to former staff being overpaid sums. In the majority of cases, staff are contacted and repay the outstanding sums.”
Jones said that the stress of the CCJ and added financial burden in the run-up to Christmas has been detrimental to his wife’s mental and physical health, leaving her unable to sleep and eat properly.
She was referred for extra antenatal support in early December.
Jones added: “When you’re going through pregnancy they measure how much the baby’s grown and how far along you are, and she was two weeks behind schedule, and that wasn’t the case at her last check-up two weeks ago. She just feels very stressed by it and she’s upset.”
The Trust said it discussed payment options with the couple, including a gradual payment plan to creditors, but Jones said this would have long-lasting repercussions.
He said: “It will say on the records that you didn’t pay upfront. Even once it’s paid it will still be on her record for six years,” he said. “If you get a CCJ you can struggle to get a telephone line, it’s really difficult to get credit, if you want to remortgage it could cost tens of thousands of pounds if you get charged a massive interest rate.”
He added that he had repeatedly contacted the hospital, copying Homerton Trust CEO Tracey Fletcher into all emails, to find out a breakdown of the amount being charged, as well as whether CCI had sent the notifications of the debt as recorded delivery or conducted house visits to check the couple were resident there. Hospital staff were unable to tell him this.
Jones claims one staff member admitted to him that the overpayment was a clerical error by a hospital worker, but that the matter had now been passed to creditors and it was no longer within their power to do anything about it.
He said his wife had been overpaid in a similar incident at another NHS Trust, but had been contacted immediately and the matter was easily resolved.
He added: “I did say in one of my emails [to the Homerton] that a simple phone call would have sufficed at the time just to get rid of all of this, but no-one thought to ring her at her new job or anything.”
*Name has been changed