Payroll Assistant

Local authorities employ hundreds, sometimes thousands of staff working in many different departments. Staff may be paid weekly or monthly and some may work several hours of paid overtime or be in jobs in which car allowances, shift allowances, unsocial hours, stand by and/or bonus payments are made. Some of them work full-time, some part-time and some job share. They may choose to join a pension scheme and have the contributions deducted at source from their pay. The payroll department has to ensure that they are all paid correctly and that records connected with their pay are kept up to date.

In addition, a council may operate a payroll system for locally managed schools, using information supplied by school administrators.

Work Environment
Payroll assistants work indoors, in offices within council buildings. Most of their work is done seated at their own desks and using their own computer terminals. They do the work allocated to them by their payroll officer.

Daily Activities
Payroll assistants feed data into computer terminals in time to meet the council's date for paying its employees each week/month. (Councils normally have regular day of the week on which employees receive their pay packets or a date toward the end of the month on which salaries are paid in to bank accounts and staff given a payslip.)

They check time sheets and clock cards that show exactly how many and which hours staff have worked. They then calculate the correct salary or wage to be paid, including any additions for overtime and other payments, take off deductions for income tax, national insurance and pension contributions and prepare pay slips, detailing all the information. They also have to make sure that any pay increases or holiday pay are included. They use calculators and computers in their work. They must also keep accurate records to ensure that employees are not over or underpaid.  They may also carry out general office duties such as photocopying documents and answering the telephone.  Much of the work can be repetitive.

Skills & Interests
Payroll assistants need to be:

  • competent in the use of IT systems; 
  • organised and be able to prioritise own workload; 
  • accurate and methodical; 
  • able to pay attention to detail; 
  • able to work on own initiative and within a team; 
  • able to work to tight deadlines; 
  • able to concentrate for long periods of time.

They must be able to respect confidentiality of information. For example, they must not discuss employees' salaries or personal affairs. (Sometimes they may be required to deal with Attachment of Earnings Orders or Judgement Debts made by the courts and ensure that the amount of money in question is deducted from the employee's pay and paid to the court office.)

Entry Requirements
Usual minimum entry requirements are five GCSEs grades at C or above, including English and Maths, or experience in a previous job that required literacy and numeracy skills. However, many entrants have higher qualifications.  In order to become a payroll assistant, previous experience involving the use of computerised payroll databases is required.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
A small council might employ one or two payroll officers responsible for a small team of two to three assistants.  In a large council there might be two to three principal or senior payroll officers, eight or nine payroll officers and 20 or more payroll assistants.  It is necessary to have previous experience as a payroll assistant before gaining promotion to payroll officer.

Further Information & Services
Association of Accounting Technicians
The Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales ( or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

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