Probation service reported to pensions ombudsman over shared service payroll failures

Union seeks investigation into problems with payments delivered by Cabinet Office-backed Shared Services Connected Limited

The trade union Napo has previously raised concerns about payroll to the prisons and probation minister. Credit: Paul Faith/PA

By Tamsin Rutter

23 Aug 2017

The National Probation Service has been reported to the pensions ombudsman after hundreds of staff received incorrect salary payments via a Cabinet Office-backed shared services centre.

Napo, the trade union for probation officers and family courts staff, has asked the ombudsman to investigate the NPS because staff checking their payslips found that incorrect pension contributions had been taken from their pay, affecting the amount they were paid and taxed.

Ian Lawrence, Napo general secretary, told Civil Service World that there had been a series of problems with payroll over the past year, including with pension miscalculations and failures to award travellers allowance or failing to pay the correct rates of pay to staff who have had their roles re-graded but have had their levels of pay protected.

“These things can impact on someone’s tax code or P60,” he said, adding that staff were under huge pressure. “It’s not a good picture.”


The errors are thought to be linked to Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL) – a joint venture between the Cabinet Office and French outsourcer Sopra Steria – which has taken over the back-office functions of several departments, including the Ministry of Justice and its arms-length bodies.

As one of two centres set up as part of the Cabinet Office’s Next Generation Shared Services Strategy, SSCL has already caused controversy. The National Audit Office last year found that delays and poor leadership had caused the strategy to fall well short of the £128m savings it was forecast to deliver each year.

Instead, the two service centres – the other is run by Avarto – only delivered £90m in efficiency savings during their first two years, at a cost of £94m in investment.

SSCL introduced a Single Operating Platform in February to modernise payroll and HR transactions, and the NPS has confirmed that anyone who has had changes to their salary since then is likely to be affected by the errors. 

This includes staff on maternity and sick leave, working overtime, and those who had just joined the service and were automatically enrolled into the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). 

Napo said that an investigation by the ombudsman or Greater Manchester Pension Fund – which administers NPS contributions to the LGPS – would confirm whether failures around the collection of contributions and auto-enrolment have broken the law. 

Dean Rogers, Napo’s assistant general secretary, said: “We can’t be certain if SSCL lied to us, the NPS and ministers about testing single operating platform prior to implementation, or if the problems are more fundamental.

“We strongly suspect these are systematic failures linked to probation staff being in a different pension scheme. Either way it is ridiculous and alarming that a government department can’t meet its pension obligations and manage a PAYE system for probation staff.”

The latest concerns come after Napo raised concerns in April with prisons and probation minister Sam Gyimah about new starters having to wait up to three months before being paid, wrong sick pay formulas and pay errors taking months to be resolved due to inadequate computer systems.

The Government Digital Service also had pay related issues when it switched to a new payroll system handled by SSCL in May.

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