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I can’t get back the £20,000 I accidentally paid through PayPal

I accidentally overpaid my tuition fees to the University of Birmingham.

I am a self-funded doctoral student and my fees are £2,998 for a year. I accidentally paid £22,980.

As this was via PayPal I was not aware of my error until the money was about to come out. My bank refused the payment but it still went through, and my PayPal account is showing a debt of £22,980.

The university finance department confirmed it had returned the money to PayPal.

I disputed the transaction via PayPal’s online resolution centre but, without consulting me, it has changed the reason to “wrongly invoiced” and asked me to send proof, which I cannot do.

I have been clear all along this was my error but my dispute has now been closed, with PayPal finding in favour of the university and confirming I owe it £22,980.

I do not know where the money is but have now received a letter that states I will be pursued for this debt.

I have done all I can and this is extremely stressful. I have no idea what to do now. I cannot pay £22,980 I do not owe.

AM, Nottingham

Your mistake started a nightmarish chain of events as it proved very difficult to reach anyone at PayPal who would listen or, you felt, believe you.

In the end it has taken two months to help you resolve this.

You found PayPal paid no attention to the information shared by you, or the university, in the dispute resolution portal and, even when we got involved, and the situation was edging towards a resolution, you were upset to receive a letter from a debt recovery firm tasked with chasing the money.

The cash was in PayPal’s coffers all along, as the university had done what it said and returned the money. Unfortunately, the transaction was not associated with your account.

Once the university’s bank provided a reference number for the transaction, PayPal was able to locate the funds. But, rather than credit them to your account, it returned the money to the university, so it could credit the refund to your account, a step that prolonged your agony.

PayPal says: “This was an unusual case and it took longer than we’d have liked to reverse the overpayment. We have made a goodwill payment to say sorry for the delay.”

You have accepted the £510 compensation but have donated it to charity.

This has put a huge strain on you and your family, and we are glad to have helped bring it to a close.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Consumer Champions, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions