Social Security Benefits: Overpayments

Department for Work and Pensions written question – answered on 16th July 2021.

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Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many direct earnings attachments her Department has put in place in each year since the Welfare Reform Act 2012 enabled recovery of overpayments as a result of errors made by her Department rather than the claimant; and what estimate she has made of the amount that has been overpaid in error by her Department in each year since 2012.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It is not possible to produce a historical time series for this specific data request regarding Direct Earnings Attachments (DEA). However, I can confirm that there are 15,000 DWP debtors with an official error debt who currently have a DEA in place.

This data is taken from operational data systems, and is not intended for publication. Therefore, the data itself is not quality assured to the standard of published Official Statistics and National Statistics.

It should be noted that, during a period when we have faced the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, fraud and error in the benefits system remains low, with 95% of benefits, worth more than £200bn paid correctly in 2020/21. Official Error overpayments remained at 0.4% of benefit expenditure last year, with UC Official Error Overpayments falling from 1.3% to 0.9%.

DWP’s primary method of debt recovery is by deduction from any on-going benefit that mightbe in payment, with limits on the amount we can deduct from income related benefits being set out in legislation.

Where recovery from ongoing benefit entitlement is not possible, DWP will seek to agree a voluntary repayment plan with the debtor, taking into account their personal circumstances and the amount they can reasonably afford to repay each month.

Where a person fails to agree a voluntary repayment plan, we can apply a Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA) which allows deductions to be taken directly from a person’s earnings, bu this would only be after DWP had made all reasonable efforts to pursue recovery via a voluntary repayment plan.

Estimates of the amount that has been overpaid in error by DWP are published annually and can be found by following the links at Fraud and error in the benefit system - GOV.UK (

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