What is a Direct Earnings Attachment?

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This article will explore a Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA) in more detail, including what they are, how they work, and how deductions are calculated.

If you have received an overpayment from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), or your local authority, they can recover the overpayment through your wages with a Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA).

The thought of money being deducted from your wages due to a simple mistake or human error can be frustrating – especially if you’re already struggling to make ends meet – but knowing how a DEA works can help put your mind at ease.

What is a Direct Earnings Attachment?

A Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA) is a method of debt recovery used by the DWP, HMRC, and some local authorities to reclaim benefit overpayments, including housing benefit overpayments and tax credit overpayments.

DEAs are used to recover overpayments through your wages in regular instalments until the debt has been repaid and are a guaranteed way for creditors to ensure they receive the money they are owed. This can sound daunting, but you will always be informed of a DEA before it is applied and there is a limit to how much money can be deducted per pay period.

DWP Debt Management, which is part of the DWP, is responsible for chasing benefit overpayments and will contact your employer directly to initiate the DEA process.

How does a Direct Earnings Attachment work?

If you have been overpaid benefits, you may be served with a DEA which allows regular deductions to be made from your wages until your overpayment has been recovered.

There is no court order required for a DEA and your employer will be sent a letter from your creditor containing details of your debt and the deduction rate that should be applied. They will then be given 22 days to set up a repayment schedule.

DWP payments must be received by the 19th of each month following the month the deduction is made. For example, if you get paid on September 30, the deduction must reach the DWP by October 19. Similarly, if you get paid on October 1, the DWP must receive the money by November 19 at the latest.

When your employer receives a DEA notice, you will also be informed and given a chance to repay what you owe before any deductions are made. This can give you a chance to repay your debt on your terms and avoid a DEA altogether.

How will a Direct Earnings Attachment affect my credit rating?

One of the most common concerns people have when they receive a DEA is how it will impact their finances on a broader scale and, in particular, how their credit rating will be affected.

But because a DEA won’t be listed on your credit report, it should have no impact on your credit rating whatsoever. This means that, while your earnings will be temporarily reduced, you should have no problem accessing credit.

However, it is worth remembering that other financial difficulties you are facing, such as outstanding debts or mortgage arrears, can still affect your credit rating. This may mean you struggle to get a personal loan, bank account, or even phone contract until your finances have improved.

What counts at earnings for a Direct Earnings Attachment?

The main purpose of a DEA is to take money you owe directly from your earnings to repay a debt, but there are certain rules about what can be classed as earnings for DEA purposes.

The following forms of income are classed as earnings for a DEA:

  • Salary or wages
  • Bonuses
  • Commission
  • Overtime
  • Statutory sick pay
  • Occupational payments (if paid with salary or wages)
  • Compensation payments

The following forms of income are not classed as earnings for a DEA:

  • Statutory maternity pay
  • Statutory paternity pay
  • Statutory redundancy pay
  • Statutory adoption pay
  • Guaranteed minimum pension
  • Any money received from the government (e.g. benefits, pensions, or credits)
  • Repaid working expenses (e.g. reclaimed fuel, transport, or equipment costs)

How much will be taken from my wages for a Direct Earnings Attachment?

DEA deductions work on a sliding scale and are based on your weekly or monthly earnings. They can be applied at a standard rate (up to 20% of your salary) or a higher rate (up to 40% of your salary). They can also be applied at a fixed rate but this is only considered in exceptional circumstances (usually if the overpayment is significantly high or low).

However, a DEA can never leave you with less than 60% of your net income (the amount of money left after Income Tax and National Insurance contributions have been made). This is known as your Protected Earnings and is the percentage of your wages that are exempt from DEA deductions.

For each pay period, your employer can also take up to £1 from your wages to cover their administrative costs. This can be done even if it would take your income below your Protected Earnings but not if it would mean you’re paid less than the National Minimum Wage.

Will a Direct Earnings Attachment still be applied if I’m on a low income?

If your weekly or monthly earnings fall below a certain threshold, a DEA won’t be applied and no money will be taken from your wages.

For example, if you earn £100 or less a week or £430 or less a month, no deductions will be made under the standard rate. However, if your employer has been instructed to make deductions at the higher rate, 5% of your earnings will be taken which equals £5 a week or £21.50 a month.

Similarly, if a DEA would leave you with less than 60% of your net earnings, it won’t be implemented.

What should I do if I’ve received a Direct Earnings Attachment for an employee?

If you’ve received a DEA for an employee, it’s important to follow the instructions as laid out in the DEA notice as closely as possible.

Firstly, you must inform the employee that a DEA has been issued against them and when the first deduction will be made. This can give them enough time to prepare and, if necessary, set up an alternative repayment plan.

Next, you must check if the employee has any other arrestments against them and, if so, whether they take priority over the DEA. DEAs are non-priority arrestments so must always give way to any other arrestments the employee was previously served.

Finally, you must work out how much to deduct from your employee’s earnings and set up a repayment schedule ensuring each payment is received no later than the 19th of the following month. The DEA notice will tell you whether to make deductions from your employee’s net earnings at the standard or higher rate and you must multiply the net earnings figure by the percentage rate to get the monthly deduction amount.

Once you start managing an employee’s DEA, you must also keep a record of all deductions made and inform the DWP as soon as possible if the employee leaves the company.

DEA deductions must continue to be made until the outstanding balance has been repaid or the DWP tells you to stop.

Can a Direct Earnings Attachment be applied at the same time as a formal debt solution?

The DWP’s Benefit Overpayment Recovery Guidance includes a policy to not recover benefit overpayments from an individual in a formal debt solution. This means that, if you were to enter into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) while you had a DEA, all deductions would be stopped and the formal debt solution would take over.

From this point, your creditors will be bound to the terms of the formal debt solution and won’t be able to recover the debt in any other way, meaning any existing wage arrestments must be cancelled.

When your IVA payments are being calculated, your total income before DEA deductions will be used as this will be reflective of your wages at the start of your arrangement.

If you have a DEA, you may think you can’t afford an IVA. However, because any wage deductions you have will automatically stop as soon as an IVA comes into place, your monthly income will be higher than it currently is and you will be able to repay more towards your debt.

Can my employer refuse to make deductions towards my Direct Earnings Attachment?

If you know your employer on a personal level, it can be tempting to ask them to simply not make deductions from your wages. However, this is a risky move and is likely to have legal repercussions for everyone involved.

Once your employer receives a DEA notice, they are legally obliged to set up a repayment schedule within 22 days. Failure to set up a repayment schedule or make the correct deductions can lead to your employer facing a fine of up to £1,000 and, in some cases, imprisonment.

Similarly, if you are found to have provided false information in an attempt to avoid a DEA, this could result in a penalty or even a criminal conviction.

Can I stop a Direct Earnings Attachment?

Depending on how far into the DEA process you are, you may be able to cancel a DEA and put a stop to any deductions being made.

For example, if you’ve been threatened with a DEA but it hasn’t been enforced yet, you may be able to set up a repayment plan to help you repay the debt before it gets forcibly taken from your wages. This can be done by calling the number on the DEA notice and offering to repay what you owe in regular instalments.

However, if deductions have already been taken from your wages, it can be very difficult to convince your creditor to stop the DEA. This is because a DEA is a guaranteed way for your creditor to recover the money they are owed and there is no way for them to know you will manually repay the debt if the arrestment was cancelled.

When it comes to stopping a DEA, you must act quickly. Even if you don’t think you owe the money or have already repaid the debt, deductions will automatically be made if no action is taken and your employer has set up a repayment schedule.

Can I have another type of arrestment at the same time as a Direct Earnings Attachment?

DEAs are non-priority arrestments, which means they must give way to any priority arrestments you have. This is to protect you against financial hardship and prevent too much money from being taken from your wages at the same time.

Some examples of arrestments that would take priority over a DEA include:

England and Wales

  • Deduction from Earnings Order (DEO) from Child Maintenance Group (CMG)
  • Attachment of Earnings Order (AEO) for Maintenance or Fines
  • Council Tax Attachment of Earnings Order (CTAEO)

Scotland

  • Earnings Arrestment (EA)
  • Conjoined Arrestment Order (CAO)
  • Current Maintenance Arrestment (CMA)

I think my Direct Earnings Attachment is wrong, what should I do?

If you have been served with a DEA but don’t think it is correct, it can be tempting to ignore it and hope the DWP recognises their mistake. However, this is extremely unlikely because, even if a benefit overpayment has been calculated incorrectly, the DWP will usually pursue you for payment unless you challenge the claim.

Typically, the longer you wait to challenge a DEA, the more difficult it becomes to successfully dispute.

The first thing you must do when you find yourself with a DEA you believe is incorrect is compare the DEA notice to any previous documents you’ve received from the DWP, HMRC, or your local authority. If the details don’t match, you must reach out to your creditor to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

When you contact your creditor, you will be expected to explain why you came to the conclusion you did and will be asked to present evidence to back up your claim.

Conclusion

A Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA) is a debt recovery solution commonly used by the DWP, HMRC, and local authorities to recover benefit overpayments directly through your wages.

Receiving a DEA can be daunting, but there are certain rules in place to ensure you’re not pushed into financial hardship and can still afford essential living costs, such as food, utilities, and housing.

Having another arrestment on your wages or entering into a formal debt solution, such as an IVA, will cancel your DEA and put a stop to any more deductions being taken from your wages.

Key Takeaways

Direct Earnings Attachments (DEAs) can be used by the DWP, HMRC, or your local authority to take money owed directly from your wages
Deductions can be made from income, bonuses, and commission, but no money can be taken from statutory maternity or paternity pay
The amount deducted is based on how much you earn, but you will never be left with less than 60% of your net earnings
If you enter into a formal debt solution, like an IVA, your DEA will be cancelled and all deductions will be stopped
If you think your DEA is wrong, you must act quickly and contact your creditor with evidence to back up your claim
Maxine McCreadie

Maxine McCreadie

Author/Debt Expert

Maxine McCreadie, prominent personal finance writer featured in Vogue and Yahoo News, delivers practical guidance, simplifying money management and championing financial literacy.

How we reviewed this article:

HISTORY

Our debt experts continually monitor the personal finance and debt industry, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

October 17 2023

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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