Underpayment of wages

Deductions from your pay

Your employer is not allowed to make a deduction from your pay or wages unless:

  • it's required or allowed by law, e.g. National Insurance, income tax or student loan repayments
  • you and your employer agree the deduction in writing
  • the contract of employment states that they can do this
  • there is a statutory payment due to a public authority
  • you've not worked due to taking part in industrial action
  • it's the result of a court order or employment tribunal decision.

The Employment Rights Act 1996 affords protection against unlawful deductions from wages to employees, agency workers (but not self employed people) and apprentices. If the employer is attempting to deduct a previous overpayment, please see overpayment of wages.

Step 1: Check and talk about it

• check if it's a lawful deduction (see above)
• read your payslip and contract of employment for an explanation
• speak to your payroll or employer/agency to find out if this is an administrative error. If so, your employer/agency should pay you what you are owed as soon as possible
• if the employer/agency is attempting to deduct a previous overpayment, please see overpayment of wages.

Step 2: If unresolved, put it in writing

Write to the employer/agency using our letter template. It is useful to also read through our example letter and remember;

• always be polite, clear and firm
• the bold words in the sample letter show where you need to enter information
• send any other relevant information that supports the claim (e.g. photo of payslips or P45)
• do not delay, send it immediately
• send the letter via email or recorded delivery to ensure proof of postage.

Step 3:  If unresolved, write again

If you do not receive a response to the first letter, write again using our letter template


• amend the letter noting when you sent the first attempt and add that this is your second and final attempt
• amend any relevant dates and give another 5 working days
• add that if there is no response to this final attempt you will have no option but to 'contact the RCN'
• do not delay, send it immediately.


Step 4: Talk to us


If you do not receive a response to the second attempt within the final 5 days, call us on 0345 7726100. We will advise you what to do next. You may have grounds for a  grievance or possibly an Employment Tribunal (ET) claim for unauthorised deductions from wages under Part II Employment Rights Act 1996 but strict time limits apply (3 months (less one day) from the date of the last underpayment).


If you can't sort things out directly with your employer (either informally or formally via a grievance), it is important to call us for advice on 0345 772 6100. We will explore the options with you. With our support, one option could be to bring an employment tribunal claim for unlawful deduction from your wages. But to do this ACAS has to be notified. They will offer you the opportunity to use Early Conciliation.

A claim to an employment tribunal can be made within three months (less one day) of the underpayment. If there is more than one deduction from your wage, then provided that the complaint is made within three months (less one day) of the last deduction, and there isn’t a break of more than three months in the series (less one day), you can also claim for the earlier deductions. If there has been a break of more than three months between successive deductions that will break the chain. In addition, for claims presented on or after 1 July 2015, there is a two-year cap on back pay. See the Deductions from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014.

If you miss the three month time limit and cannot make a claim to an employment tribunal, you can pursue your claim through the county court via a breach of contract claim. The limitation period is six years from the date of the breach. In Scotland, this should be done through the sheriff’s court within five years of the unlawful deduction.

Timing is very important. Make sure you are within the time limits for making a claim to the employment tribunal.

As a self-employed person, the RCN is unable to provide you with workplace representation, nor do we support civil breach of contract claims that are worth less than £10,000 in England and Wales, and £3,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. You can of course pursue this matter yourself if monies due to your are outstanding via Money Claims online or via your local County Court if the sums are above the small claims threshold. The county courts also deal with a wide range of civil cases including employment and consumer disputes, personal injury and debts. 

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Need more help?

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If your enquiry is urgent or you need to speak to the advice team, call us on 0345 772 6100, 8.30am-5pm (weekdays) and 9am-4pm (weekends).

Page last updated - 03/02/2021