If you have outstanding debt that you have not paid, your creditor(s) can apply for an attachment of earnings order which takes money direct from your wages to repay your outstanding debt(s).
One or more of your creditors could take court action against you and obtain a County Court Judgment (CCJ) or another court order.
A court order means you must pay the money owed back either in instalments or in full by an agreed date. If you fail to meet the requirements of the court order, your creditor can take further action to retrieve the money from you.
There are several ways they can do this. If you’re working, your creditor may try to obtain a court order that takes money from your wages which is paid directly to them. This is known as attachment of earnings.
In this help guide we will explain what happens if your creditor(s) apply for an attachment of earnings order and if there is anything you can do to prevent or change the terms of the order. This guide covers:
An attachment of earnings order is where your employer is instructed to stop money from your wages to pay back your debt.
Your employer will send payments directly to the court and the court forwards it on to your creditor. Your employer will charge an administration fee of £1 on top of whatever the court instructs them to pay.
To determine how much you should pay back to your creditor, the court works out a minimum amount of money you need to live on. This is known as the protected earnings rate.
The sum you owe to your creditor can only be taken out of the money you earn above this amount. If you earn less one week or month, the amount you pay your creditor would reflect this and you’d pay less, as your income cannot fall below what the court has set.
Your creditor is unable to obtain an attachment of earnings if:
- the amount you owe is less than £50, or
- your take-home pay always works out below the protected earnings rate.
If your creditor does manage to obtain an attachment of earnings order, it will detail both the amount of the weekly or monthly deductions that must be made by your employer to your creditor, and the protected earnings rate the court has set for you.
Your creditor may apply for an attachment of earnings order if you have any of the following debts:
- Credit card debt, banks loans and hire purchase agreements
- Student loans
- Rent or mortgage arrears
- Income tax, VAT or TV License arrears
If you have Council Tax or child maintenance debts, your creditors can also apply for an attachment of earnings order, however the rules for these differ slightly from the rules set out on this page.
If you have arrears for child maintenance, the Child Support Agency (CSA) or Child Maintenance Service (CMS) don’t have to apply for a court order to be able to take money from your wages. They can make one themselves, which is known as a deduction from earnings order.
Your creditor is unable to apply for an attachment order if you’re:
- Self employed
- In the army, air force or navy
- In the merchant navy
If your creditor does apply for an attachment of earnings order, you will be sent court form N56. You’re required to fill in this form detailing your financial circumstances.
These will include your employer’s details and whether or not you have any other outstanding debt. You will have to include your partner’s financial details too. You have eight days to return this information back to the court.
A court officer will use the information you’ve provided to make an attachment of earnings order. If you fail to give enough information on form N56, you may be required to attend a hearing with a judge.
If you need help filling in form N56, you can contact an experienced insolvency adviser from ClearDebt or Citizens Advice.
It is an offence not to send back form N56 or to provide false information. If you don’t send back the form, the county bailiffs will serve you with an order to fill it in.
If you still don’t send back the required information, then you will be sent a notice to appear in a court hearing to explain why you have not provided the information you are required to about your financial circumstances.
You MUST attend this hearing. If you fail to do so the court can issue a warrant for your arrest and you can be brought to court or even sent straight to prison for up to 14 days.
If your creditor is aware of your employer’s address, which they could already be from details you’ve given them, they can pass this information straight to the court.
The court can then go directly to your employer to ask them to provide details of your earnings if you fail to return the N56 form back to the court.
In some circumstances, your creditor can apply to the court for an order to obtain information to find out more about your finances or obtain your employer’s details. You will have to go to court to swear an oath that the financial information you are providing is correct.
If you are having trouble completing the form, seek help from a trained debt adviser immediately.
You can ask the court not to issue an attachment of earnings order if your creditor agrees to a new payment plan for you to pay back what you owe.
This is known as asking for a suspended attachment of earnings order.
There is a box to tick on form N56 if you want to ask for a suspended attachment of earnings order. You must also detail your reasons.
If the court accepts your request for suspending the attachment of earnings order, the court won’t start taking any money from your wages unless you don’t keep up the repayments you have agreed to.
You can get help from an experienced debt adviser if you want to suspend an attachment of earnings order.
I can’t afford the payments
If you think the amount of money being taken is too much, you can tell the court that you don’t agree with the amount the creditor is asking for.
You have 14 days from the date the original order is made if you want to do this. If the order has been in place for a while and your circumstances change, you may still apply to the court to ask them to change the terms of the order. A hearing will be arranged and the judge could make a different order.
Asking for a consolidation attachment of earnings order
You can ask the court for a consolidation attachment of earnings order.
You may choose to do this if you have other CCJs and making one payment is easier for you to manage. Instead of you paying different creditors yourself, one monthly payment is taken out of your wages by your employer and it is sent to the court.
The court will then divide up the money and send it to all the creditors who have County Court Judgements against you.
A consolidation attachment of earnings order is only a good move if:
- You have an attachment of earnings order in place and want to add a debt(s) that has a County Court Judgement against it (them).
- You have no problem with money being taken directly out of your bank to pay back your debt(s).
You can apply to the court for a consolidated attachment of earnings order by contacting the court in writing. In the letter, you should:
- Give details of all the attachment of earnings orders and CCJs against you that you want the court to consolidate.
- Include a budget sheet to show your income and expenditure of your household. You should also make it clear how much you can pay in total on the new order.
No hearing will be held. Your creditors have 14 days to object to the order being made. It is unusual for the court to turn down a request to make a consolidated attachment of earnings order and details of the new order will be sent by the court.
What happens if I leave my job?
If you leave your job, for any reason, the attachment of earnings order stops being paid but it isn’t cancelled or written off. It will come back into force when you get a new job.
It is a criminal offence not to inform the court of your new job and employer.
What are the implications of an attachment of earnings order on my job?
It could have serious implications, depending on what type of job you have, if your employer discovers an attachment of earnings order has been made against you.
If you work in a job with money, financial advice or a job that requires a lot of trust, such as a security job, you may find your employer has a policy of dismissing employees if a court order is made against them.