Creditor takes money from your wages
If you're in debt, one or more of your creditors may have taken court action against you and got a county court judgment (CCJ) or other court order.
A court order means you have to pay back the money you owe either in instalments or in full by a certain date. If you don't keep to the terms of the court order, your creditor can take further action to try and get back the money you owe.
There are several ways they might try and do this. If you're working, your creditor might try to get a court order that takes money from your wages and pays it directly to them. This is called an 'attachment of earnings order'.
The types of debt you might have where your creditor applies for an attachment of earnings order include:
- credit debts, such as credit cards, bank loans and hire purchase agreements
- student loans
- rent or mortgage arrears
- income tax or VAT arrears
If you have council tax or child maintenance debts, your creditors might also apply for an attachment of earnings order but the rules for these work slightly differently than the rules described on this page. If you have child maintenance arrears, the Child Support Agency (CSA) or Child Maintenance Service (CMS) don’t have to apply to court for an order to take money from your wages. They can make one themselves. This order is called a deductions from earnings order.
Your creditor can't apply for an attachment order if you're:
- in the army, airforce or navy
- in the merchant navy
For more information about council tax and child support arrears, see Dealing with urgent debts.
For more information about CCJs and other court orders, see Creditor takes you to court for debt.
For more information about other types of action your creditors can take if you don't stick to the terms of a CCJ or other court orders, see Further help.
An attachment of earnings order instructs your employer to stop money from your wages to pay back your debt. Your employer will send the payments directly to the court and the court will send the money to your creditor. Your employer will make an administrative charge of £1 for each deduction as well as whatever the court decides you should pay.
To work out how much you can afford to pay your creditor, the court works out the minimum amount of money you need to live on. This is called the protected earnings rate.
The amount you owe to your creditor can only be taken out of the money you earn above this amount. If you earn less money one week or month, the amount you pay your creditor will be less, as your income can't fall below what's been set by the court.
Your creditor won't be able to get an attachment of earnings order if:
- the amount you owe is less than £50
- your take-home pay is always below the protected earnings rate
If your creditor gets an attachment of earnings order, it will show both the amount of the weekly or monthly deductions to be made by your employer to your creditor, and the protected earnings rate the court has set for you.
The court will send you court form N56. You must fill in this form, giving details of your financial circumstances. These include your employer's details and whether you owe money to anyone else. You need to include your partner’s financial details too.
You must return this to the court within 8 days.
A court officer will use the information on the form to make an attachment of earnings order. If you don't give enough information on form N56, you might be asked to go to a hearing with a judge, which you should attend.
You can get help to fill in form N56 from an experienced debt adviser, for example, at your nearest local Citizens Advice.
If you don't return form N56
It is an offence not to send back form N56 or to give false information.
If you don't send back the form the county court bailiffs will serve you with an order to fill it in.
If you still don't return the form then you will be sent a notice to go to a court hearing to explain why you have not given the information you need to about your financial circumstances. You must go to this hearing.
If you don't go to the hearing, the court can issue a warrant for you to be arrested and brought to court or even send you straight to prison for up to 14 days.
If your creditor knows your employer's address, which they may already do from previous financial details you've given them, they can pass this information straight to the court. The court can go directly to your employer and ask them to provide details of your earnings if you don't return the N56 form to the court.
In some circumstances, your creditor can also apply to the court for an 'order to obtain information' to find out more about your finances or to get your employer's details. You will have to go to court and swear on oath that the financial information you're giving is correct.
For more information about an order to obtain information, see How a creditor can get information about your finances.
You can ask for the court not to make an attachment of earnings order if your creditor will agree to a new payment plan to pay back what you owe.
This is called asking for a 'suspended attachment of earnings order'.
You can ask for a suspended attachment of earnings order by ticking a box on form N56 and giving your reasons.
If the court accepts your reasons for suspending the attachment of earnings order, the court won't start taking money directly out of your wages unless you don't keep up the repayments you've agreed to.
If you can't afford the payments
If you think too much money is being taken out of your wages, you can tell the court you don't agree with what your creditor has asked for.
You have 14 days from the date the original order is made to do this. If the order has been in place for some time and your circumstances change, you can still apply to the court to change the terms of the order. A hearing will be arranged and a judge may make a different order.
For more information on how you can change the terms of a court order, see Changing a court order for debt.
Asking for a consolidated attachment of earnings order
You can ask the court to give you a 'consolidated attachment of earnings order'.
You might want to do this where you have other county court judgments besides the attachment of earnings order and it would make payment easier for you. Instead of you having to pay different creditors yourself, one monthly payment is taken out of your wages by your employer and sent to the court. The court then divides this money up and sends it out to all the people who have county court judgments against you.
A consolidated attachment of earnings order is only a good idea if:
- you already have an attachment of earnings order in place and want to add another debt that has a county court judgment against it.
- you don't mind having money taken out of your wages to pay back your debts.
You can apply for a consolidated attachment of earnings by writing to the court. In the letter you should:
- give details of all the attachment of earnings orders and county court judgments that you want the court to consolidate
- include a budget sheet. This gives details of all your household's outgoings and income. You should make clear how much you can afford to pay in total on the new order.
There is no hearing. Your creditors have 14 days to object to the order being made. It is unusual for the court to refuse to make a consolidated attachment of earnings order and you will be sent details of the new order by the court.
Changing an attachment of earnings order later on
If your circumstances change, you may be able to get the terms of an attachment of earnings order changed. You might want to do this if, for example, your income goes down or if you suddenly have to regularly spend more money on essential outgoings.
If you leave your job for any reason, the attachment of earnings order stops being paid but it isn’t cancelled. It will come back into operation if you get a new job.
If you get a new job, you must tell the court about your new employer. If you don’t, this is a criminal offence.
If you are out of work for some time, you could apply to cancel the order altogether.
For more information about getting a court order cancelled, see Changing a court order for debt.
Depending on the kind of work you do, it may be quite serious for you if your employer finds out that the court has made an attachment of earnings order against you.
For example, if you work with money or in a job which requires a lot of trust, such as a security job, you may find your employer has a policy of dismissing you if you have a court order made against you.