Novopay still causing problems

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 23/06/2014

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More than half a million dollars has been overpaid to school staff in wider Manawatu since the error-ridden Novopay education payroll system was rolled out.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act show 606 school staff in the Manawatu, Tararua, Horowhenua and Rangitikei districts, and Palmerston North city, have been wrongly paid since the system went live nearly two years ago.

There have been 716 overpayments made to workers in the region, worth $741,757, with some staff paid too much more than once.

About 68 per cent of the debt, or $502,162, has been either repaid by school staff or cleared by the Ministry of Education.

But that leaves $239,595 owing from 292 school employees, which the ministry expects to be paid back.

School leaders spoken to by the Manawatu Standard said in general Novopay was getting better, but the same bugbears schools had battled since the start were still causing headaches, including payment problems, laborious systems and services, and long delays resolving issues or getting help.

The ministry was dealing with 55 queries from Manawatu school staff about overpayments, as well as one debt under dispute.

Levin-based Waiopehu College lodged a query in December about an overpaid staffer which was yet to be replied to, principal Barry Petherick said.

"The inefficiencies there are still costing us a significant amount of extra time and the real cost to cash-strapped schools across the country must be enormous, [with] money not getting to the classrooms."

Overpayments were an ongoing problem and they were challenging to sort out when queries went unanswered, he said.

Palmerston North Girls' High School principal Melba Scott said overpayment errors the school had were worth small amounts, but staff were given repayment options, including spreading the payback over successive pay periods.

"The fortnightly payroll information does require careful auditing, and although the error rate has significantly reduced it has become regular work for our payroll staff."

Overpayments logged at St Peter's College were worth less than $100 but the wait to sort them was often lengthy, principal David Olivier said.

"We have generally found the problems to be diminishing, but at times, the length of time it takes to resolve some of the issues is extensive."

The Education Ministry has declared it would not pursue individual overpayments of $100 or less, with a ceiling of $300 per person until the end of this year when the policy would be reviewed.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins has said thousands of schools still faced problems with overpayments and Novopay had millions in debts still to be recovered.

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Reports of ongoing errors were creating hundreds of thousands of dollars in new debt.

The minister responsible for Novopay, Steven Joyce, has said work was continuing to improve the delivery of the school payroll system, including planned revisions to the service centre model, resolving outstanding overpayments and leave balances.

Novopay processes the pay of 110,000 teaching and support staff at 2457 schools throughout New Zealand every fortnight.

- Manawatu Standard

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