Phoenix Falling

Kingston woman overpaid by Phoenix — then told to pay back much more

For the past 20 months, Shauna Rowsell has been begging advisers at the Phoenix pay centre to help fix massive overpayments that have landed in her account.

Shauna Rowsell begged for help, says she no longer trusts the Phoenix pay centre

Federal workers protest against the ongoing Phoenix pay problems. (Julie Ireton, CBC )

For the past 20 months, Shauna Rowsell has been begging advisers at the Phoenix pay centre to help fix the massive overpayments that have landed in her bank account.

A federal employee for two decades, Rowsell has unanswered questions about her pension, health and tax deductions — and says she doesn't trust the pay system.

Now the government is asking her to pay back the gross amount of the overpayment, which is significantly more than the extra money that was deposited in her account.

"They want $19,330 back, and then we'll call it even," said Rowsell, a civilian who works in a shop at Canadian Forces Base Kingston.

"They want the gross. I have the net [overpayment] to give back ... but the gross? The pay centre states they want $9,338 of my personal money, which is wrong on every level."

The Canada Revenue Agency's website has tips for federal workers affected by the Phoenix pay system. (CRA)

Rampant overpayments

Thousands of public servants have been overpaid by the failed Phoenix system. In fact, as of last February, CBC reported that the federal government was seeking to collect more than $70 million in overpayments. 

Requests to Public Services and Procurement Canada for more current statistics regarding overpaid public servants went unanswered.

For Rowsell, it all started back in March 2016, shortly after the new system rolled out.

She had recently left position on the Kingston base and started a new one, which changed her pay rate.

The problem was that Phoenix kept paying her for both jobs, on and off, for months, despite numerous inquiries and complaints to the pay centre.

"They were telling me to pay back the money, but they would never give me an amount," said Rowsell. "I would ask questions, 'What about the double payments with my pension? What's going to happen to all that?' And they were, 'Well, we don't have the answer to that question.'"

According to the Canada Revenue Agency's website, public servants who've been overpaid will only have to repay more than the net overpayment if they didn't pay it back in 2016, or make arrangements last year to repay that amount.

"In these cases, you will have to repay the net overpayment received plus the tax withholdings on the gross overpayment," the agency says.

Federal workers protest against the ongoing Phoenix pay fiasco affecting tens of thousands of federal workers who have been overpaid and underpaid. (Julie Ireton, CBC)

Frustrating and stressful

Rowsell and her husband said the ordeal, which still hasn't been clarified, has been frustrating and stressful for the whole family.

"So I had a pay adviser review the numbers. All their numbers they had, the majority of them, were incorrect and didn't match my pay stubs. So my adviser [on the base] came back and said that I owe $2,500 less than what the pay centre stated."

But things only got worse last spring, when on the government's urging Rowsell filed her taxes based on the incorrect T4 slip she had received.

Her T4 showed she'd only made $23,000 in her government job, much less than the actual amount she'd taken home in both regular and double pay.

Then CRA sent her a big refund cheque.

"[It's] very, very frustrating since it's been going on for so long," said Rowsell. "I was thinking about getting my own lawyer, but it's unfair that I have to pay all this money of my own pocket. I mean, I just go to work. I shouldn't have to deal with this."

Rowsell figures it will take years to get it all sorted out.

"I have every cent that they paid me ready to go back to them I just need them to straighten this out and I want it to be right. I don't want to give them thousands of dollars that I don't owe them," said Rowsell.

Andrew Caddell was overpaid more than $19,000 because of a Phoenix pay system error. (CBC)

'Quite scandalous'

Another public servant, Ottawa's Andrew Caddell, was also overpaid for several months while on leave without pay.

He said he had a different yet equally disturbing response from the main pay centre in Miramichi, N.B.

"Originally they told me I owed $3,599. And I knew that I owed at least $17,000 at the time," said Caddell, who retired in July.

"It was only after I took it to the media that there was some attention, and they assigned a very competent person in Miramichi who eventually took care of it."

Last April, Caddell repaid $19,404.40, the net amount of overpayment he'd received. 

"If you take [my example and] you multiply that by how many people have been affected, you're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars," said Caddell. "And that really is quite scandalous, I think." 

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is with CBC Ottawa. She’s a critical thinker who has produced hundreds of original pieces of impact journalism. You can reach her at