Lorna Nicholls - Payroll advisory team leader (CIPP)

How did you start your payroll career?

After leaving school I decided to go into nursing. The careers advisor had also recommended a career as a speech therapist so I thought if my nursing didn’t work out, I could attempt that, but in the meantime I didn’t know what to do whilst I waited for the next year’s intake of student nurses. Not one to let me sit idle, my careers advisor asked what I liked doing and I replied “Maths”! Next thing I was working in the local hospital as a wages clerk collecting and totalling hours on the nurse’s timesheets. I enjoyed “wages” so much I forfeited my nursing career and stayed and 36 years later I am still working in “wages”.

How did you then move into policy and advisory?

I had found myself working incredibly long hours and my work life balance was non-existent. I was finding I wanted more time to enjoy other interests and spend more time with my loved ones. A job in the CIPP’s Advisory team came up, I applied and here I am. I am still able to be a part of the profession I love, while still being able to study and impart my knowledge onto our members. My working hours are 9 to 5 which suits my lifestyle perfectly. It’s a win- win situation and I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work in advisory.

Did you study a specific course to help you enter this career?

No, I sat a maths and English test and that was it. I learned my skills on the job as many older payrollers will be familiar with. I have attended so many courses over the years, I have lost count.

Was there a moment in your career/life that made you want to enter a career in payroll?

Not really, I fell into it, fell in love with it and decided to stay.

How do you feel when you know you have made a positive difference to someone through your advice?

It’s a fantastic feeling knowing that you have answered and helped solve a member’s query. The relief in their voices or that “thank you so much for your help” on a return email gives me immense satisfaction knowing that I have helped a fellow payroller resolve an issue. The added stress placed upon payrollers this year has been immeasurable, totally incomparable to any year I can remember in 36 years. If our team has been able to relieve them of their worries in any shape or form, then that gives me such immense satisfaction and pride in the jobs we do.

What has been your biggest sense of achievement since joining the Advisory team with the CIPP?

Being Promoted to team leader.

Tell us about a typical week as an advisory team member?

It is a nonstop treadmill from 9 to 5. We have regular team chats to discuss any unusual queries that come in as each of us have areas of expertise in different fields of payroll legislation. Policy keep the team updated on any forthcoming changes to legislation, enabling us to study the material and prepare for any queries we receive. Furlough however has been an enormous challenge for us as the rules have changed with such pace. We have depended upon each other and the policy team for guidance and support dealing with the queries. We wouldn’t have got through these last few months without the support of one another and I cannot thank the team and the policy team enough, as it has been one crazy year. The number of queries we have dealt with have increased by 54% from April to November compared with the same period last year. That speaks volumes as to the pace at which we have been working. I have never seen a year like this in 36 years and I have seen some enormous changes to payroll in that time. This year is one I, and every payroller in the country will never forget. If payroll does not get acknowledged as an industry recognised profession after all our members have achieved with great sacrifices at times, then I think a government petition will be the next step.

What type of skills does an Advisory team member need?

Good understanding of payroll legislation, a good listener, a clear head, a good speaker and an excellent sense of humour.

What's the most interesting fact you have ever heard about payroll?

There are many but one that comes to mind is the recovery of an overpayment of wages under section 14 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 – known as Estoppel. This is where an employer has the right to deduct an overpayment even if there is no agreed deduction clause in an employees’ contract – considerations have to be made of course but this was a very interesting topic.

Where do you receive your updates?

The CIPP policy team and HMRC.

What techniques do you use to provide detailed accurate answers?

By referring to legislation and translating that into layman’s terms. Understanding why you have to carry out a certain task to remain compliant is beneficial to all payrollers. Better understanding leads to less confusion and improved processes within a payroll team.

What processes do you use to keep up to date with general legislations?

Reading, writing guidance notes for myself and my team, team meetings with policy, directing queries to HMRC for clarification. I am constantly studying and learning even after all these years in the profession. I maintain my own payroll compendium with links to all payroll legislation for ease of access.  It’s why I love my job so much. It is always challenging, interesting, informative, satisfying and gives me huge job satisfaction.