Eastwood Park Academy Trust

Eastwood Park Academy Trust is a small Trust with two schools that used their Local Authority payroll services. In 2020, the Local Authority notified them that they would be outsourcing their payroll function to an external provider from April 2021

This would give them access to a more user-friendly portal and the benefits of outsourcing the payroll to a commercial provider.

From the start, problems arose as Sharon Freeman, the Trust's CFO, explained,

"They were supposed to take over our payroll in April, but they weren’t ready to start using their systems until July. So that triggered alarm bells ringing with us that we were running into problems quite early on; they just kept pushing back the start date.

Their platform seemed intuitive and an improvement on the Council's old, clunky system. However, we started to get worried when we asked for reports in advance to see what it looked like, and they never materialised. We were promised that we would be given a payroll agent and that never happened.”

The original implantation date of April 2021 came and went, and the Trust was given a July go-live date. In the months leading up to July, however, the Trust became increasingly concerned about the service they were receiving.

“There was a complete communication blackout. There were no email addresses we could use to contact people. We were still using the projects@ email address even during the go-live time, from which they had no response.

We had written to the CEO and the COO. The CEO then sent out a general message to say that they were overwhelmed with the amount of data and were doing the best they could and understood the frustrations from both parties. Unfortunately, this response led us to think that we would be receiving a woefully inadequate service, right from the off.”

The Trust went live in July, and everyone was paid, so the team thought it was just teething problems and things would improve, but then the letters started to arrive.

“We started getting letters from HMRC to say that our National Insurance contributions were underpaid. We were getting letters from Teachers’ Pensions saying returns hadn’t gone in. LGPS then wrote to us saying they had information missing.”

Attempts to contact the provider was still problematic with no dedicated email address and a phone number with just an answerphone. Messages were not replied to, and the Trust were at a crisis point. Despite the Trust being contracted for 12 months, Sharon explained, “by the time we got to the beginning of August, I was ready to go.”

WORKING WITH DATAPLAN

The Trust went to their network and peers to ask for recommendations, and Dataplan Education was one of three providers asked to quote.

Sharon explained why Dataplan were chosen,

“Dataplan just seemed so confident that they could deal with not only our payroll but also the issues with our payroll. And our payroll is quite complex, even as a small Trust.

We needed to know that someone was skilled enough to take on a complex and messy payroll and pension. The problems caused by the new provider in just three months included NI payment shortfalls, errors in the Apprenticeship Levy and missing information for pensions.

A lot of the providers had bells and whistles, such as HR reporting, but I just needed my payroll right, and I wanted to go to a payroll specialist that understood education and understood the complexities of both Local Government and Teachers’ Pensions. So it was music to my ears to hear you had a pensions department that specialised in education.”

THE TRANSITION TO DATAPLAN

Dataplan was chosen as the Trust's new provider with a three-month window for implementation. Problems with the incumbent, however, escalated quickly,

“Within two weeks of the August payroll being run, we made the decision that we had to go immediately because things were getting catastrophic! We didn't feel safe with our current payroll provider. We didn't feel confident they were delivering in any area.

When you outsource your payroll, it is supposed to take away the stress and worry out of payroll. I felt that we might as well have done it in-house at that point because of all that stress about whether people had been paid or their pension contributions being correct; we were suddenly dealing with that burden and not knowing how to unravel it.”

The payroll transfer was put in the very capable hands of our Implementation Team. In addition, the Trust was given a named contact who would hand-hold them through the process.

“Molly stepped in and just took all that stress away. She was so confident in dealing with everything. Her attitude was 'nothing's a problem. Don't worry; it is all sortable'. She uses her initiative, such as calling up HMRC to get the files for the previous three months sent to her to unpick the mess because she knows that the previous provider probably won’t respond to my multiple emails about how we underpaid in NI.

I think this November payroll will be the first payroll where I am not getting up at 2 am to check that everyone has been paid!”

LOVING VERA

Our Education clients have access to our VERA portal, which gives them payroll, pensions and HR data about their employees.

“One of the reasons we moved to you was that we liked the portal. It's uncluttered and straightforward. We love VERA, the character! It's nice that even the payroll system has a bit of personality.

VERA is intuitive; it is straightforward to use. The reporting looks great. It is easy to follow. I know that going forward, we can probably customise the reports more if we need to, but as it is at the moment, just ‘out of the tin’, it is working for us.”

FINDING THE RIGHT PROVIDER

Despite such a poor experience from a payroll provider, the Trust is still advocating outsourcing their payroll.

“I wouldn’t want to bring payroll house; it's too complex. It’s a very specialist area. When you have a payroll provider in place, you shouldn’t even have to be worried about pension contributions and HMRC; it should just happen. You should wake up on the 26th of each month and know that everyone has been paid.”

Sharon summarises her experience with Dataplan Education,

"We have gone from such a dire, dire position, with me panicking whether the staff would be paid, to Dataplan managing to move us in 6 weeks. It has been incredible, and all credit to the whole team. The move has been a positive experience because we now have a provider we can trust."