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I’ve been qualified for more than 10 years, eventually specialising in respiratory nursing as a Band 7 nurse. I had my first child in 2020, just before the first lockdown began, and was on maternity leave for a year. Although I had an idea of what my maternity leave payments might be, I didn’t know an exact amount for each month. As many staff were working remotely during the pandemic, I didn’t get any pay slips in the post or other notifications. 

The month before I was due to return, I contacted the trust’s IT department to be able to log in again to their email system.  I found a message from the payroll department, saying they had overpaid me by almost £14,000 and I had to pay it back immediately, with a payment plan they had already set up. This was for £1,200 each month. 

They had overpaid me by almost £14,000 and I had to pay it back immediately

I was in such a panic. I was a new parent and already money was tight. It was impossible for me to pay, taking into account all our other bills, including rent and childcare. I was so upset that no-one had sent me a letter or rung me. Even though I knew I’d done nothing wrong, I actually thought I was going to get in a lot of trouble and was afraid I’d lose my job. It was something I was completely unaware of, yet I felt like a criminal and it was all my fault.  

When I made contact, what upset me more than anything was how black and white they were, with no appreciation of the effect this was having on me. I was in tears, telling them there was no way I could afford to live, pay my rent, travel to work or feed my son if they took that much money from my wages. 

Eventually they discovered that HR had not told payroll I was on maternity leave, because their systems didn’t talk to each other. It was a massive human error. These things can happen, but sadly they didn’t take any responsibility for it or even apologise, which I found upsetting. 

RCN support is available

I was struggling to manage the situation myself, so I approached the RCN for advice and representation. The RCN’s Welfare Service was so helpful. We did a financial assessment of our income and expenditure, with a proposal that I pay £40 a month, which the trust has accepted, although they’ve said there is an expectation the payment will rise after 12 months. That’s due to be renegotiated any time now – except I’m no better off, in fact probably the opposite. 

We’re able to pay our bills and put food on the table, but childcare is so expensive. My dad has been stepping in to help, but he has a long-term health condition and is finding it difficult, so now we need to make other arrangements, increasing the costs. At the moment, we’re paying £500 a month, but with my dad stepping back, that will rise to at least £800. We’re trying to figure out how to afford it.  

Ever since I qualified, we’ve had either tiny pay rises or none at all

Currently I’m contemplating taking on a second job or some bank shifts at the weekends to generate some more income, when my husband can look after our child, but he’s worried that I’ll become burnt out and rundown if I take on more. I work 25.5 hours at the moment and we’ve worked out that if I was to become full-time, we wouldn’t be any better off because more childcare would be needed. And I’d be spending less time with my son. 

Pay doesn't reflect rising costs

What would really help us is more support with childcare costs. With my salary in particular, we’re not really seeing any real wage increases and that has a big impact. You think that you’ll be better off each year and hopefully your salary will go up with inflation, but ever since I qualified, we’ve had either tiny pay rises or none at all.  

I don’t want our financial circumstances to impact my son’s health and wellbeing. He is our priority. But with inflation and the cost of living rising, it’s very worrying. We’re now paying almost double what we were paying last year for our utilities. It’s constantly on my mind.


*Name has been changed to protect member anonymity
Main image: Getty stock image

Our fight for fair pay 

The RCN is campaigning for an NHS pay rise of 5% above inflation, to help address the cost-of-living crisis and encourage people to stay in the nursing profession.
You can help our fight for fair pay by having impactful conversations with colleagues, and telling your friends, family and the public how vital pay is to ensure services are safely staffed.
Sign up to become a campaign supporter and order campaign materials to display in your workplace.
Find out more and get involved with our campaign for fair nursing pay

Where can I get help? 

Whether you’re finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet or feeling overwhelmed by spiralling debts, the RCN provides a broad range of financial advice and support, so you can begin to gain control again. 

The first step is to take a look at our financial wellbeing pages, says RCN Welfare Adviser Ian King. “Use our online guidance to see what strategies might help you improve your own situation, directing you towards what to do next,” says Ian. “There is lots of help out there, so don’t think you’re on your own.” 

Our resources include a budget planning tool and a financial wellbeing checker, which signposts you towards further support, depending on your individual circumstances. The webpages also provide help with claiming various benefits and dealing with specific money worries, such as rent arrears or overpayment of wages, benefits or tax credits. 

“Often a sudden and unexpected drop in income can be a trigger for needing help,” says Ian. For example, injury or illness, a partner leaving, or fleeing domestic abuse. “In these different circumstances, someone may not know what kinds of benefits they’re eligible to claim or the various sources of support that could be available,” he says. Alongside welfare benefits, in a limited number of situations these can include charitable grants, referrals to discretionary funds or voucher schemes for food and energy.    

While the RCN can’t currently offer advice about regulated debts such as credit cards and loans, we do have guidance on how to take control of debts, including what to do if you don’t have enough money to pay your creditors after paying your essential living costs. There is also support for those facing a “debt emergency”, such as court or bailiff action, eviction or disconnection.  

The RCN’s Welfare Service offers one-to-one telephone appointments, which can be made via our advice team on 0345 772 6100. 

“But before you contact us, we strongly advise you to look at the online advice and complete all the tools and checkers relevant to your circumstances,” says Ian. “You may find they answer your query without the need for an appointment.”  

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