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If a creditor takes money from your bank or building society

This advice applies to Scotland

If you owe someone money (a creditor) and they follow the right procedure, they can stop you taking money out of your bank or building society account by freezing it. This is called a bank arrestment.

There are strict rules about how a creditor can freeze your account. There's a protected balance in your account that you can still use (see below).

How a bank arrestment works

In some cases, money might be taken from your bank account without a court process because the creditor has fast-track powers. For example, this happens if you owe money to:

  • the Child Support Agency - for child maintenance
  • the Department for Work and Pensions - for benefit overpayments.

Stage 1: Sheriff officers send you a charge

A court or tribunal will order the debt to be paid, and you'll be given a charge. If an extract decree is issued, a charge might not be issued. A charge is a formal document presented to you, usually by officers of the court called sheriff officers.

The charge confirms that your creditor has the right to make you pay the debt.

Stage 2: A schedule of arrestment is sent to your bank

A  formal document called a 'schedule of arrestment' will be sent to your bank or building society. This document sets out when your account will be frozen.

Stage 3: Your bank freezes your account

Your bank or building society will freeze your account and tell you about the arrestment. You won't be able to access more than your protected minimum balance (see below).

Stage 4: Your bank sends the money to your creditor

Your bank or building society will automatically release the money to your creditor 14 weeks after the schedule of arrestment is sent to it. Your bank or building society can release the money earlier if you agree to this.

Your creditor might have had the power to freeze your account before the court agreed to the court order, but the money can still only be released 14 weeks after the court makes the order.

You might be able to challenge a bank arrestment (see below).

Protected balance

There's a protected amount of £529.90 (from 6 April 2019) that can't be taken to pay off a debt. You can still use this amount.

If you have several accounts with the same bank or building society, the protected amount of £529.90 applies to all the accounts together. If you have several accounts in different banks or building societies, the protected amount of £529.90 applies to each account separately.

You should check carefully which bank or building society your accounts are with, because some banks with separate names are in the same banking group. Separate accounts in the same banking group might be treated as being with the same bank. In that situation, the protected amount will only be applied once.

If you have a joint bank account

You might need advice if you have a joint bank account.

If you have a joint account, the bank will normally freeze the full amount with a bank arrestment. But you should be able to argue that the creditor isn't entitled to receive the full amount in a joint account.

The creditor will be entitled to the full amount if:

  • only the account holder who's in debt paid money into the account - in which case all the money belongs to them
  • the debt was incurred jointly by the account holders
  • the account is in the joint names of a couple who have equal liability for the debt.

If two joint account holders paid money into the joint account but only one of them owes the debt, the creditor might only be entitled to part of the balance. You'll need legal advice to clarify this.

If you have a number of debts, you should get help from an experienced adviser, for example at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

How to challenge a bank arrestment

You might be able to object to a bank arrestment because:

  • you can argue that you and your family will suffer 'undue hardship'. This is a legal term. It might be easy to argue this if a lot of the funds are paid to you as benefits. This might be the case if there are young children or elderly members in your family 
  • a court has allowed you time to pay
  • your creditor didn't use the correct procedure.

If you've been told that your account is to be frozen, you should get help to sort out what options you have.

Some of the funds going into your account shouldn't be frozen, for example your child benefit. But it's sometimes difficult to get the bank to separate this out for you.

You should get help from an experienced adviser to negotiate for you, for example from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Apply for time to pay

For most types of debt, as long as applications for some time to pay the debt haven't been made, you can apply to court or the First-tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber) for time to pay. This will suspend the arrestment procedure.

There's more information about how to apply for time to pay on the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service website .

If you owe £5,000 or more

Your creditor can take legal action using ordinary procedure in the sheriff court. If you're applying to the First-tier Tribunal for a claim of this amount, you should call the tribunal for guidance.

If you have a debt of this size, you should get help from an experienced adviser, for example at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

There's more information about applying for time to pay under ordinary procedure on the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service website.

If the debt relates to an order for payment or a decision from the First-tier Tribunal

You can find out more about applying for time to pay on the First-tier Tribunal website.

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