This potentially amounts to an unlawful deduction from wages, which is made illegal under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
Under law, an employer can only make deductions from, or withhold an employee’s wages in the following circumstances:
• If it is legally allowed (e.g. to deduct tax);
• If it is to recover an earlier overpayment of wages made by the employer;
• If their contract specifically allows for the deductions to be made; or
• If the employee has given their explicit written agreement for the deductions to be made.
If none of the above exemptions apply, the deductions will most likely be unlawful. In order to try and resolve this, the employer should be contacted in writing, advised that this is being treated as unlawful deduction of wages and ask them to pay back the money within 7 days. Advise them that if they fail to pay the money that is owed, legal proceedings could follow.
If the employer does not return the money as requested, the following options are available:
1. Employment Tribunal - the time limit to claim is only 3 months from the date the deductions were made. To make the claim, form ET1 needs to be completed and submitted - you can find it here: https://www.employmenttribunals.service.gov.uk/employment-tribunals
2. County Court – this is an alternative way to claim and the advantage is that the time limit is a much longer 6 years and is usually used if you are out of time to claim in the Tribunal. The claim can be made online by going to: www.moneyclaim.gov.uk.
Hopefully by warning the employer you are aware of your rights and are not going to hesitate taking further action they will be prompted to reconsider their position and work towards resolving this.
However even though you can try and recover that money your position is vulnerable in other ways. You are not protected against unfair dismissal as you have less than 2 years service with them so they could still dismiss you if they think you are causing no trouble with this to bear that in mind.
I trust this has answered your query. I would be grateful if you could please take a second to leave a positive rating (selecting 3, 4 or 5 starts at the top of the page). If for any reason you are unhappy with my response or if you need me to clarify anything before you go - please get back to me on here and I will assist further as best as I can. Thank you