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i The advice on this page applies to residents in England and Wales only.

What is a direct earnings attachment?

If you’ve been overpaid benefits or tax credit overpayments, the amount you have to pay back may be taken directly from your wages through a direct earnings attachment (DEA).

There’s no court order for a direct earnings attachment. Your employer will be sent details of how much to take from your pay Payments are made directly by the employer to the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or the relevant local authority.

They should write to you before starting the direct earning attachment and you may be able to avoid the DEA by agreeing to pay the debt in instalments instead.

This is different to other ways debts can be paid by taking money directly from your wages:

Debts to government departments and local authorities are ‘priority debts’ due to the consequences of falling behind with them. If you’re worried about this, we’re here to help. Our debt advice is free and confidential.

Direct earnings attachments and benefit overpayments

A DEA can be used to collect overpayments on benefits from the DWP. These benefits include:

  • Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit
  • Child Benefit

The DWP should write to tell you that you’ve been overpaid benefits before they issue the DEA.

With the roll out of Universal Credit and regular changes to the benefits systems, it’s recommended you contact the agency that pays your benefits if you need to query or challenge any overpayments.

Use our online benefits calculator to check you’re being paid what you’re entitled to.

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DEAs and housing benefits overpayments

These are recovered on behalf of your local authority by bailiffs or sheriff officers. You may have to make repayments if you didn’t report a change in circumstances, gave the council the wrong information or if they overpaid you by mistake.

In the first instance, contact your local authority to query or challenge any overpayments of Housing Benefit.

DEAs and loans from the DWP Social Fund

These loans include:

  • Winter fuel payments
  • Cold weather payments
  • Funeral payments

If you don’t repay these loans as agreed, the money can be recovered using a DEA.

To query overpayments, contact the Social Fund Enquiry Line on 0800 169 0140, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6:30pm.

DEAs and full income tax arrears or tax credit overpayments

HMRC can take money directly from your wages if you have arrears on income tax or other taxes, or if you’ve been paid too much in tax credits.

If you receive benefits and you’ve had a tax credits overpayment, the HMRC may adjust your benefits payments to recover the money owed, instead of issuing a DEA.

There are two ways HMRC recovers money owed from wages:

  1. Using a direct earnings attachment
  2. Changing your tax code to increase the amount of tax you pay each month

For more information, or to challenge an overpayment, call the HMRC tax credits helpline.

Telephone: 0345 300 3900, textphone: 0345 300 3909, Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, Saturday, 8am to 4pm, Sunday, 9am to 5pm.

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Frequently asked questions

Can I stop a direct earnings attachment?

In some cases you can stop a DEA. Contact the creditor as quickly as possible and offer to pay what you owe by monthly instalments. It’s important to demonstrate how much you can afford to repay.

You can do this by completing a budget form. The HMRC, DWP or local authority has the power to reduce the amount taken if it’s causing you hardship.

If they agree to your repayment plan, they won’t enforce the DEA.

You can challenge their decision that you’ve overpaid by:

  1. Raising a complaint with the creditor
  2. Going to their ombudsman (the official body that oversees their work) if it’s not resolved

Can I stop HMRC from changing my tax code?

You have the chance to object to them doing this. Contact the HMRC and come to an arrangement to pay the debt in another way, for example by monthly instalments. If they agree to your repayment plan, they won’t adjust your tax code.

What counts as earnings for a DEA?

The following are counted as earnings:

  • Wages and salary, including bonuses and overtime pay
  • Fees and commission
  • Commission
  • Occupational pensions, if paid with wages or salary
  • Compensation payments
  • Statutory Sick Pay

The following aren’t counted as earnings:

  • Statutory Maternity Pay
  • Statutory Adoption Pay
  • Ordinary or Additional Paternity Pay
  • Guaranteed minimum pension
  • Any money you get from the government, such as benefits, pensions or credits
  • Statutory redundancy pay
  • Expenses
  • Pay or allowances as a member of HM Forces (although this doesn’t include allowances for special members of the reserve force)

How much can be taken from my wages with a DEA?

There are two payment rates set by the DWP: standard and higher DEA rates.

The higher rate is often set if you’ve been found guilty of an offence.

How much you pay depends on how much you earn, with higher earners paying a larger percentage. The maximum that can usually be taken is 40% of take home pay. That is your salary after tax, National Insurance and your workplace pension have been deducted.

For more information about how DEA is calculated, visit Gov.UK

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