Have you got a question about a direct earning attachment (DEA)? Our direct earnings attachment order guide explains exactly what one is – and what it’s not (an Attachment of Earnings). And we answer a number of the most frequently asked questions all to do with DEAs. 

If you’ve received benefits or tax credits overpayments, you need to hear this!

What is a direct earnings attachment (DEA)?

A direct earnings attachment (DEA) is used to recover tax credit and benefit overpayments. Anyone who has been overpaid these benefits may be subject to a DEA, which means the money will be repaid through your wages. 

Payments will be deducted from your employment income by your employer. Deductions will continue until all the money is paid back. You will notice these deductions on your payslip because “DEA” will be written on the slip. 

What counts as an employee’s earnings for DEAs?

An employee’s earnings that can be deducted to pay back benefits include:

  1. General employment 
  2. Bonuses
  3. Commission
  4. Sick pay and any compensation
  5. Overtime 

Employers can make a deduction from employee wages for any of the above. But they cannot deduct from:

  1. Statutory maternity pay
  2. Statutory redundancy pay
  3. Statutory adoption pay
  4. Statutory paternity pay
  5. Repaid working expenses

If a deduction from any of these is made, the employee should make a complaint or contact the Financial Ombudsman. 

Will I need to attend court?

You will not need to attend a court hearing when subject to a DEA. Don’t confuse this with an attachment of earnings order; this type of order does require a court hearing. 

An attachment of earnings is used as a way for creditors and private companies to enforce debt repayment after you are issued with a CCJ. For example, if you have failed to repay payday loans. 

It’s also not the same as a liability order, which is used by a local authority to recover council tax debt. 

Why have I got a direct earnings attachment?

Direct earnings attachments are only issued when money is owed to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or HMRC. If you have a DEA, you will owe money back to either of these groups because you have been overpaid a (tax) benefit. 

How much can be taken if a DEA is applied?

The amount taken by the DWP or HMRC will depend on what they request when they make an application for the DEA. 

They can request either:

  1. A standard rate amount
  2. A higher rate amount
  3. A fixed-rate amount

If the DWP or HMRC apply with the standard rate, you will pay 20% of your salary. But if they apply at a higher rate, you will pay 40% of your net earnings. This percentage applies weekly or monthly, however the payroll operates at your place of work. 

DEA deductions should not have been collected in April, May or June of 2020 due to the COVID 19 pandemic. 

For example, if you are paid £1,500 net per month and pay the standard rate, you will pay an amount of £300 each month until the overpayment is repaid. 

They may also apply for a fixed rate which could be more or less than what is deducted using the standard or higher rate. They may choose this option if your debt is smaller or bigger. 

You can ask for a lower fixed rate to prevent financial hardship. You may want to contact a charity for support. 

The minimum net earnings

DEAs can never leave the employee owning more than 40% of their net income. This means at least 60% of your wages are classed as protected earnings. 

Your net income is what you earn after the deduction of taxation, workplace pension contributions and national insurance. 

What happens if you have another arrestment on your earnings?

Direct earnings attachments are a non-priority arrestment, meaning any other earnings order, that order will take priority. If both can be applied simultaneously and leave you with at least 60% of your net earnings then you will have to pay both at the same time. 

Interestingly, student loan debts also take priority over a DEA.

Can I stop a direct earnings attachment?

The best way to stop a DEA before it begins is to agree to make payments to clear the debt over time. HMRC and the DWP both accept debt management plans where you pay a percentage of the debt each week or month until the debt is cleared. 

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) even runs a DWP Debt Management group which is solely responsible for agreeing on a payment plan with people who have been overpaid housing benefit, tax credits, and more. 

Once it has begun, it is unlikely that HMRC or the DWP will entertain a monthly debt management plan because they are already getting the money straight from your employer and any future employers. These types of deductions are convenient for them. 

HMRC also has the option of changing your PAYE code to recover the overpayments. 

Does a direct earnings attachment affect my credit score?

The DEA will not appear on your file. You have not defaulted on a card or loan payment; you have just been overpaid.

If you think a DEA could send you into debt elsewhere, you should let the local authority known and consider debt advice and solutions. You may be able to write off some of your debt with a Debt Relief Order. 

We discuss all the various debt solutions that can get you out of debt in the most appropriate and affordable way. Check out our rundown of your options on this page!

Direct earnings attachments guidance is available!

For more help understanding your position and what you should do next, use a debt advice service from a charity. 

You can uncover the best charities to use on our website here. Search through our page to find a service that is right for you. There are a number of excellent option to choose from. 

And related support is always available in our other guides and posts! 

About the author

Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson is a financial services expert, with over 10 years’ experience in the industry, including 6 years in FCA regulated companies. Read more
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