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Worried about an attachment of earnings?

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i The advice on this page applies to residents in England and Wales only.

What is an attachment of earnings?

There are several situations where a creditor can take money directly from your wages, and in some cases this can be done without court action. This is called an attachment of earnings.

This is quick and guaranteed way for a creditor to get money from you, but the drop in your take-home pay may lead to further debt problems.

These only apply if you’re employed by someone else and you’re taxed on a ‘pay as you earn’ (PAYE) basis. If you’re self-employed, you won’t be affected by any of these actions.

In most cases, your employer is not allowed to refuse to pass on the payments. There are a few exceptions, for example if you work for the armed forces attachments from earnings can’t be made from your wages.

In some cases, contact from a court or creditor to take a debt from your wages might cause embarrassment or even disciplinary problems at work. If there’s a risk of this we suggest you contact us for advice on dealing with your debt, and speak to your trade union rep, the ACAS helpline, or confidentially to your HR or personnel department for advice on your rights at work.

You must inform the creditor straight away if you stop working or change jobs.

CCJs and attachment of earnings

If a creditor has a County Court judgment (CCJ) against you and you’ve not paid the amount the court told you to, the creditor can apply for an attachment of earnings.

You’ll receive a form for replying to an attachment of earnings application (N56) (PDF) from the court. You need to complete this and return it within 8 calendar days, along with a copy of your most recent wage slip.

If you don’t reply you might get a summons to go to court for questioning, and if you keep ignoring it you could be prosecuted.

On the N56 form you can offer to pay a monthly instalment and ask for the order to be suspended. If your offer is accepted you'll have avoided an attachment of earnings as long as you keep up with the payment you offered. If your offer is accepted your employer won’t be informed.

You can also apply to the court at a later date to suspend the attachment of earnings.

The amount taken by an attachment of earnings is set by the court. They will set a ‘protected’ minimum amount of income which you must get each month, and the attachment will only be taken from earnings above this amount.

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Council tax arrears and attachment of earnings

If you have council tax arrears, your local authority can contact your employer to set up an attachment of earnings.

Before they can do this they must get a liability order from a magistrates’ court giving them permission to take further action. Once the council has a liability order they can set up the attachment of earnings and they don’t need any further court permission to do this.

The amount taken from your wages will be a set percentage of your income. A smaller amount can be taken, but this must be agreed with the local authority and your employer, and this may be difficult to set up.

The local authority can stop the attachment of earnings if you can show it’s causing you hardship, but again it may be hard to get them to agree to this. 

Up to two council tax debts can be taken from your wages at the same time. If you have arrears from two years, this means a large amount might be taken from your wages.

Paying criminal fines in instalments

If you get a criminal fine from a magistrates’ court, the court can order it to be taken straight from your wages. The amount taken from your wages will be a set percentage of your income – the more you earn, the higher the amount taken.

If you have a summons to attend court, it’s very important you go to the hearing and take a copy of your budget. You’ll need to give the court details of your income and expenses so they know the amount you can afford, and ask to pay the fine in instalments.

The court may still order an attachment of earnings, especially if you’ve missed payments to fines in the past.

Child maintenance arrears and deduction from earnings order

Child maintenance arrears to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can be taken straight from your wages using a deduction from earnings order.

The amount taken by an attachment of earnings is set by the CMS. They will set a ‘protected’ minimum amount of income which you must get each month, and the attachment will only be taken from earnings above this amount.

Repaying benefit overpayments

If you’ve had benefits overpaid by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) or your local authority they may be able to take money from your wages. This is called a direct earnings attachment (DEA) and they don’t need to take you to court to do this.

A DEA can be used to collect:

  • Any overpayment of DWP benefits
  • Overpaid housing benefit from your local authority
  • Loans from the DWP Social Fund that haven’t been paid back

The amount taken from your wages will be a set percentage of your income, and the higher your wage, the larger the percentage taken. The DWP or local authority has the power to reduce the amount taken if it’s causing you hardship.

The DWP or local authority will write to you before starting the DEA, and you may be able to avoid the DEA by agreeing to pay the debt in instalments instead.

Tax and tax credit overpayments

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) can take money directly from your wages if you have arrears of income tax or other taxes, or if you’ve been paid too much in tax credits. There are two ways they can do this.

One way is by changing your tax code, which increases the amount of tax your employer is told to deduct each month. HMRC don’t need to take you to court to do this.

HMRC will write to you before they change your tax code, and you can object. If you contact HMRC and come to an arrangement to pay the debt in another way, for example by monthly instalments, they won’t adjust your tax code.

The other way HMRC can take money from your wage to pay back tax or tax credit debts is by using a direct earnings attachment (DEA). This is the same process used to collect other benefit overpayments, mentioned above.

Help and advice

If you’ve been contacted by any creditor, local authority or the Government about an attachment of earnings, call us or complete our online debt advice tool.

Our expert advisors will put together a personal budget and give you tailored advice on your rights and how to deal with your situation.

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