Attachment of earnings orders
This fact sheet covers England & Wales. You will need different advice if you live in Scotland.
This fact sheet tells you how a creditor can get a court order telling your employer to make deductions from your wages and pay these into court to reduce the debt. This type of order is referred to as an attachment of earnings order.
This factsheet covers orders which are made in the County Court after you have received a county court judgment (CCJ). We will help you to understand your rights and the options you have to deal with an attachment of earnings order.
Use this fact sheet to:
- find out when a creditor can apply for an attachment of earnings order;
- understand what court forms you will get and how to deal with them;
- find out what to do if an attachment of earnings order may affect your job;
- ask the court to look again at their decision about the terms of the order;
- apply to change the terms of the order if your circumstances change; and
- get more information about any court fees you may have to pay.
This fact sheet includes:
- information about and links to the application for an attachment of earnings order and reply form.
Attachment of earnings orders
If a creditor has a judgment against you in the County Court that you do not pay, they can try to enforce the judgment against you. One of the ways this can be done is the creditor applying to the County Court for an attachment of earnings order to be made. This order tells your employer to make deductions straight from your earnings in order to pay the debt. Your employer then sends the money to the court.
The court can order deductions to be made directly from your earnings if:
- you are behind with the payments on your county court judgment (CCJ);
- you are an employee (not self-employed or on benefits); and
- you owe more than £50 on the judgment.
Fees and costs
The creditor has to pay a fee when they apply for an attachment of earnings order. They can add this fee to your debt. Your employer can also deduct £1 every time they take money out of your wages towards the cost of administering the attachment of earnings order.
If you need time to get debt advice and find a debt solution, you may want to consider applying for breathing space. Breathing space will stop most types of enforcement, and also stop most creditors applying interest and charges, for 60 days.
To find out more, see our Breathing space fact sheet.
Filling in the court forms
If the creditor makes an application for an attachment of earnings order, the court will send you a form to fill in called an N56. This asks you to fill in:
- your name, address and number of dependants;
- your employer details;
- your income and outgoings; and
- any other debts and court orders that you have.
There is a section asking you to make an offer of payment that you can afford. You should fill this in and make sure you have included details of all your other debts and how much you are paying to other creditors. You can also ask the court to agree to make a suspended attachment of earnings order by ticking the box and filling in the reason why you want a suspended order. This could be that you may lose your job or promotion prospects if your employer finds out you are in debt.
Support Through Court
Support Through Court is an independent charity which offers free support and guidance before, during, and after court. They are not able to provide legal advice or act on your behalf, but can offer practical and emotional support if you are facing court without a lawyer.
What happens when I send back the court form?
A court officer will use the information on the N56 form to make an attachment of earnings order. It is a good idea to send the form recorded delivery and keep a copy.
The court cannot make an attachment of earnings order if your take-home pay is below a certain level. This is called the ‘protected rate’. Although the County Court generally looks at your ability to repay the debt they use a much stricter system for calculating attachment of earnings repayments. They do this because it is a method of enforcement. The ‘protected rate’ is calculated by the court staff and uses set figures for essential expenditure such as housekeeping.
The court will then send you the order in writing. If you have asked for the attachment of earnings to be suspended the court staff will decide if they agree with you and include this in the order.
Contacting the court by email
You may be able to contact the court by email. Contact us for advice.
What happens if I don't send the form back?
You must send the form back to the court so that the court gets it within eight days of you receiving the N56.
It is an offence not to send back the form or to give false information.
If you don’t send back the N56 form then county court bailiffs (also known as enforcement officers) will serve you with an order to fill it in. If you still don’t contact the court then you will be sent a notice to go to a court hearing to explain why you have not given the court the information requested.
If the creditor knows your employer's address, the court can go directly to the employer to ask them to provide details of your earnings if you do not return the N56 form to the court.
Go to the hearing
You must go to this hearing. If you don't attend, the court can issue a warrant for you to be arrested and brought to court or even send you straight to prison.
You can be sent to prison for up to 14 days or fined simply for not following the court's instructions to fill in the form and go to the hearing.
What if I disagree with the order made by the court?
You or your creditor have 14 days to tell the court you disagree with the terms of the order. You should write to the court and keep a copy of your letter. You may have asked for the order to be suspended and need to give the court more details about why your employment may be affected. You may find the court has set the instalments too high.
A hearing will be arranged in your local County Court hearing centre with a District Judge in their private rooms. Make sure you go to the hearing and take your personal budget and details of your other debts with you. At the hearing you should explain to the District Judge why the level of the attachment of earnings will cause problems or how the order will affect your job if it is not suspended.
If you have an attachment of earnings order and have other county court judgments (CCJs) then you can apply to have a consolidated attachment of earnings order made. This makes it easier for you if you have to make your own payments to several different creditors. A consolidated attachment of earnings order means one monthly payment is deducted by your employer to cover all the CCJs and sent to the court. The court then divides the money up and sends the payments to all your creditors for you.
To apply for a consolidated attachment of earnings order you must make an application to the court on a form called an N244, giving details of all the attachment of earnings orders and CCJs that you want to consolidate.
You do not have to pay a fee up-front to make this application. Instead, ten pence is deducted by the court for every pound paid in whilst the consolidated order is in force.
There is no hearing. The 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.
Include a budget summary
Make sure you include a budget summary and make it clear how much you can afford to pay in total on the new order. If you can afford no more than the current attachment of earnings payments and want this to be divided up between all the creditors then you should say so.
Think before applying
This is only a good idea if you do not mind having the attachment of earnings order being deducted from your wages. It will only cover other debts if those creditors have a CCJ against you. If you have other credit debts that have not been to court, they cannot be included in the consolidated order. You will need to build in the payments to those creditors in your personal budget.
Changing the payments
You can apply to the court on an N244 to ‘vary’ or change the order if you find that you cannot afford the deduction rate on the attachment of earnings order because your circumstances have changed. You will have to give full details of your budget and why you cannot afford the deductions set by the court. You can also use this form if your circumstances at work change and you want the court to look at suspending the attachment of earnings order.
You will have to pay a fee to the court when you make your application. If you are on a low income or certain benefits, you may not have to pay the fee.
Leaving your job
If you leave your job the attachment of earnings stops but is not cancelled by the court. If you get another job the attachment of earnings order can be used again by the creditor. You must give the court details of your new employer or the court can decide you have committed an offence and you can be fined by the court or sent to prison. If your creditor stops getting payments and thinks you have a new job, they can ask the court to order you to file a statement of means at the court or explain why you have not done so at a court hearing. Contact us for advice.