01 December 2021

Sarah Crace MCIPPdip, payroll manager at LB Group, shares her experience of working in a payroll bureau, and the challenges faced over the last eighteen months

Working in a bureau setting has changed dramatically over the past five to ten years, with the introduction of legislative changes from real time information, automatic enrolment, general data protection regulation (GDPR) and the more recent changes that have impacted us, in terms of the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS).

The primary purpose of payroll – to pay employees – has largely become unchanged throughout the duration of the recent pandemic, however, there have been numerous changes that have impacted the payroll world, making the provision of the payroll service much more complex.

The introduction of the CJRS was the first of the major impacts to the payroll provision following the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact on a bureau setting, not only in respect of CJRS implementation, but with many of the changes that were introduced, was that we had the task of managing the changes for multiple clients with different expectations, whilst building our knowledge on new subjects. The pace at which we must manage and learn is extremely fast, and the volume we must manage is substantial. The key to ensuring we successfully manage such changes is organisation and effective management, and ensuring we have robust systems in place to provide our clients with an efficient service.

Changes to statutory sick pay for Covid-19-related illnesses were also introduced because of the pandemic, which prompted the requirement to request further information from clients when managing sickness records, to ensure accuracy of payments. The uncertainty for many businesses, particularly smaller businesses during the pandemic, has also resulted in an increase in queries relating to redundancy payments, reduced working hours and flexible working. Whilst bureau team members are not experts in the human resource (HR) and employment law fields, we have had to develop our understanding and training requirements in these areas, to provide our clients with guidance and support as an intermediary to our chosen HR and employment law specialists.

Processing payroll, particularly for multiple clients, is not just about processing payments and submitting the details to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – there is an intrinsic link with other departments and areas of the business, such as HR and employment law, the tax department and the accounts and audit teams, where we manage all services for clients.

Data and analytics is one of the most visible market trends behind the complexities of payroll, as payroll is an important data repository for personnel information, and therefore it is essential we are conforming to GDPR compliance, to protect this personally identifiable data. We have to ensure all of our data is stored per guidelines, for each client, and to enable compliance, our reports are encrypted and sent to clients, to ensure we limit the risk of data breaches.

All the changes introduced over the past few years have had a significant impact on any payroll provider, but have been particularly challenging for bureaus, who must cater to a number of different client and business requirements, ensuring consistency with our service levels, whilst managing these transitions. We have to ensure we adhere to legislation and operate all processes on each payroll we manage, whilst doing so in a high-intensity and fast-paced environment.

Communicating changes to clients and managing the process with them throughout is key to a successful client relationship and ensuring each client payroll is processed effectively.

As agents for multiple clients, we do face numerous hurdles, particularly with HMRC. As we only have limited access rights to clients’ pay as you earn accounts, it can make liaising with HMRC and trying to ascertain pay queries a very difficult task. Recently, HMRC has updated agent accounts so we can view payments made by clients, which has gone some way towards simplifying this process. Where we do not manage certain processes for clients, such as processing payments to HMRC, it can make it more difficult for us when we are required to review accounts or investigate underpayment queries. We have the additional work of collating payment information and reconciling with our systems before raising a query with HMRC.

Payroll hasn’t always been recognised as an industry in its own right, however, in recent years there has been more of a push for payroll to be recognised as such. Due to the importance of payroll, and it being at the forefront during the Covid-19 pandemic, LinkedIn has recently recognised payroll as an industry, which is a great step for payroll professionals. With this support, and continuing awareness being raised by the CIPP (including National Payroll Week), we hope this brings us some way towards other departments, sectors and businesses having a better understanding of payroll, particularly the impact of legislative changes for payroll bureaus.

Although life as a payroll bureau worker can be particularly challenging, especially in times of significant external change, it is a very rewarding role. 


Featured in the December 2021 / January 2022 issue of Professional in Payroll, Pensions and Reward. Correct at time of publication.