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The Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system

This advice applies to Wales

What is the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system

The Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system is a method of paying income tax and national insurance contributions. Your employer deducts tax and national insurance contributions from your wages or occupational pension before paying you your wages or pension.

Wages includes sick pay, maternity or paternity pay and adoption pay. You pay tax over the whole year, each time you are paid, rather than paying tax in one lump sum. Your employer is responsible for sending the tax on to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Each pay day you will get a pay slip setting out your pay, tax and national insurance contributions and any other deductions from your pay. If you get a pension, you may not get a payslip for every payment.

At the end of the tax year, you will get a form P60 which sets out the total amounts paid to you and deducted from you for the previous tax year. A tax year runs from 6 April one year to 5 April the following year.

If you pay tax on your wages or occupational pension under PAYE, the PAYE system can also be used to collect the income tax on any other taxable income you have. For example, if you pay tax under PAYE on an occupational pension, the tax due on your State Retirement Pension is collected through PAYE by deducting tax from your occupational pension. The PAYE system can also be used to collect tax due on other sources of income such as untaxed interest or rent. It can also be used to collect other money that you owe to HMRC, such as overpaid tax credits, tax debts from previous years and unpaid self-employed national insurance contributions.

How employers use tax codes to deduct tax under PAYE

HMRC uses a tax code to tell your employer or pension provider how much tax to deduct from your wages or pension. If HMRC does not have enough information to issue a full tax code, your employer or pension provider will be told to use an emergency tax code until more information is received and the tax code can be adjusted – see under heading Emergency tax codes.

Most PAYE codes are made up of a number followed by a letter:

  • the letter relates to the type of allowance(s) you are getting (see below)
  • the number shows the amount of income you have as allowances which may be set against tax (see below).

The letter in the tax code

Find out what the letter in your tax code means on GOV.UK.

The number in the tax code

The number in the tax code represents the total of all available allowances, less any amount to be deducted to cover other income or benefits.

Find out what the number your tax code means and how it's worked out on GOV.UK.

Where to find your tax code

If you are given a PAYE tax code, it will be shown on:

  • a notice of coding sent by your tax office – see under heading Notice of coding
  • your pay slip
  • your pension statement if you're getting an occupational pension.

Emergency tax codes

The tax office may not be able to give your employer a tax code to allow them to deduct the right amount of tax over the whole year. In this case, the tax office gives your employer an emergency code with which to tax you. An emergency code assumes that you are only entitled to the basic personal allowance and your PAYE tax code will include the letter L, which shows that you are only receiving this personal allowance. It does not take into account any other allowances and reliefs you may be entitled to.

You will stop being taxed on an emergency code when the tax office sends your employer or pension payer a correct PAYE tax code, and gives your employer details of previous earnings and tax paid in that tax year. This enables your employer or pension payer to deduct the correct tax in future and refund any overpaid tax caused by the emergency code. Moving to the correct code may mean you owe tax for the earlier part of the year but HMRC will tell your employer to only deduct reasonable amounts. You may therefore have to pay back some tax later on. If at the end of the tax year you think you have paid too much tax because you've been taxed on an emergency code, you should claim a refund by writing to your tax office.

Alternatively you will stop being taxed on an emergency code at the start of the new tax year. In the new year, your employer or pension provider will usually start deducting tax cumulatively, that is, when deducting tax your employer will take into account the amount of tax you have already paid in that year.

You can find more information about emergency tax codes on the GOV.UK website

You can get further information from the Low Income Tax Reform Group.

Notice of coding

A notice of coding shows your tax code if you are going to pay through the PAYE system. The notice is usually sent out in January or February for the tax year beginning on the following 6 April. The code shown in the notice is given for that tax year only. The notes that come with the notice of coding explain how the code is worked out.

Not everyone gets a notice of coding each year. It depends on what allowances and reliefs you are claiming and whether these tend to change from year to year. If the only changes are the increase of allowances in the Budget or any change in the tax rates, your employer or pension provider will include these automatically in your wages or pension and you won't get a notice of coding.

For more information about your notice of coding, go to the GOV.UK website at

You should check carefully that you have been given all the allowances and reliefs that you are entitled to claim and that all your income has been taken into account. If help is needed, contact HMRC on the telephone number shown on your Notice of coding. You can also get help with checking your notice of coding from the Low Income Tax Reform Group.

Self Assessment

If you have income which is not taxed by deductions from your pay or pension under PAYE, you will probably need to complete a tax return form in order to provide HMRC with the details. This is called Self Assessment. Income that is not taxed under PAYE could include:

  • income from renting out a room
  • income from self-employment
  • other untaxed income.

You must tell HMRC if you receive taxable income in addition to any income you pay tax on through PAYE. They will tell you whether you have to complete a tax return form.

If you want to check that you are paying the right amount of tax, or if you think you may have overpaid or underpaid tax, you should contact HMRC on the Taxes Helpline, 0300 200 3300 (Textphone 0300 200 3319).

For more information about Self Assessment, including details of the deadlines for sending in your tax return, see Self Assessment.

For help with Self Assessment, contact the HMRC Self Assessment Helpline on 0300 200 3310 (Textphone 0300 200 3319).

Paying HMRC debts with PAYE

HMRC can take money out of your pay to collect money you owe them, but there are limits to how much they can take.

If you earn less than £30,000 per year, HMRC can collect up to £3,000 per year.

If you earn over £30,000, HMRC can take more than £3,000 - the amount they can collect per year will increase depending on how much over £30,000 you earn.

The maximum amount of debt HMRC can collect in a year is £17,000 - you'll only pay this much if you earn over £90,000.

HMRC can't take more than 50% of your pay to collect a debt you owe to HMRC.

Change in circumstances

If your circumstances change during the tax year, for example, you have a new source of income, you must inform HMRC in writing as soon as possible.

For more information about particular changes in circumstances, see Pay As You Earn: common problems.

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