Apology issued after council error sees pupils' fee multiplied by 100
- Credit: Patricia Clark
A "software issue" saw the council overcharge about 530 people for music lessons in Havering, some by thousands of pounds.
Havering Council has apologised "unreservedly" for the mistake, and said it will be reimbursing people with emergency payments, including any bank charges incurred because of the error.
Patricia Clark, who attends regular music lessons at Havering Music School, was notified by her bank when the council requested £3,952 from her account, rather than the usual £39.52.
Her husband John, a pensioner, explained the incident had caused the couple significant concern.
He said: “It was a bit distressing and quite worrying to be told we are in the red.
"We are planning on going away this summer, and other families might already be on holiday now.”
The music school emailed the couple on Friday (July 23), apologising for the "erroneous and substantially increased payment" they had been charged.
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Patricia stressed the situation was not the fault of the music school, as it is the council who collects payments for her lessons.
An Upminster mother who did not want to be named said she was charged £3,120 rather than £31.20 for her son’s music lessons.
When she was contacted by the bank to inform her that she was now in her overdraft, the concerned mother thought she had been a victim of fraud.
A spokesperson for Havering Council said the software issue was only discovered after over 500 monthly direct debits had been processed.
The spokesperson added: “We apologise unreservedly for this.
“As soon as we became aware of the issue, we made contact with banks so they can support customers and are contacting each affected resident.
“We understand as a result of the error a large number of those direct debits will be rejected by banks with residents suffering no loss.
“For those payments which do go through, we will be making emergency rapid payments to cover the full amount and will cover any bank charges incurred as a result of the error.
“An emergency phone line, 0203 973 1259 will be open between 9am and 5pm to support residents.”
However, the mum said the council’s attempt to rectify the issue was not satisfactory, particularly when she claimed some parents had been charged over £8,000.
She added: “Havering failed to use any of their social media platforms to make service users aware, and the helpline they have set up goes unanswered.”