THE DEPARTMENT of Education overpaid teachers and other school staff to the tune of €1.1 million last year, because of a seven-month delay in implementing pay cuts for new entrants to the public service, a report has found.
The 2011 annual report of the Comptroller & Auditor General details how a 10 per cent across-the-board pay cut for all new entrants to the public service – which would include teachers getting their first non-substitute job – was not applied until summer 2011.
The pay cut – which formed part of the spending cuts in Budget 2011, announced the previous December – was due to come into effect in January, but about 4,700 staff who began full-time work in schools after that time did not have the cut applied for seven months.
“It took some months for the Department of Education and Skills to determine the terms and conditions relevant to new teacher appointees”, the report states.
Though the pay cuts for new entrants were intended to take effect from January, the Department did not issue a circular to schools giving advice on the new pay grades until June.
The report says the true amount of overpayments is likely to have been even higher, as teachers working in vocational schools are paid directly by those VECs – who would usually rely on Department circulars to advice them of the current pay levels.
Department policy ‘to recover overpayments in full’
About 1,400 primary teachers, 1,600 secondary teachers, and 1,700 non-teaching staff were affected by the problem. The Department of Education told the Comptroller that its policy was to recover the overpayments in full.
An accounting officer from the Department said it had to hold talks with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to discern the exact impact of the cuts in come cases, and pointed out to the Comptroller that its payroll was particularly complex given the volume of substitute teachers and other temporary staff on its books.
However, the report said that by the start of 2012, the overpaid staff had not yet been contacted – or any arrangements put in place to recover the overpaid salaries.
“While accepting that time would routinely be required to implement budget and other changes in large payrolls,” the report said, “it would have been more efficient had the Department regarded all staff added to the payrolls in 2011 as new entrants and applied the budget reductions to the salaries paid from the beginning of the year”.
All staff who joined the payroll at the Department from September 2011 onwards were paid at the correct, revised, rate.