An attachment of earnings order is made by the court and requires money from the earnings of a judgment debtor (a person who owes money to another and is ordered by the court to pay such a sum) to be deducted to pay the debt owed.
It is a useful method of enforcing a debt where the judgment debtor does not have any other substantial assets but is in paid employment.
Prerequisites of an attachment of earnings order
An attachment of earnings order may be made if:
- the judgment debtor is in arrears of payment of a debt with at least one payment; and
- the amount owed exceeds £50 (Attachment of Earnings Act 1971).
The order may be attached to:
- overtime payable under a contract of service;
- occupational pensions;
- statutory sick pay.
The order may not be attached to:
- state pensions;
- benefits or allowances.
The following judgment debtors are excluded from an attachment of earnings order:
- firm or limited company;
- merchant seaman;
- person in the army, navy or air force.
Determining the judgment debtor’s employability
If a person is unsure as to whether or not the judgment debtor is employed, s/he may be able to obtain this information by:
- an application to the court for an order to obtain information. If granted, the judgment debtor will be questioned regarding his/her employment status;
- a request to the court for a search of the attachment of earnings index (index which lists all existing attachment of earnings order) in the debtor’s local area to determine if s/he is listed;
- a request to the court for a consolidation of debts if there is a pre-existing attachment of earnings order against the judgment debtor.
Upon an application by a creditor for an order to obtain information from a judgment debtor, the court will require the debtor to attend court to answer questions on his/her financial status including the amounts involved, account names, numbers and policy numbers.
Application procedure for obtaining information
To ask for an attachment of earnings order you will need to:
- fill in Form N337 (you can get this form online from hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk);
- identify the judgment debtor and their name and address;
- state the amount presently owed;
- request specific documents to be produced as evidence.
Cost of application for an attachment of earnings order
The current cost of an application for an attachment of earnings order is £110. The fee is required for each judgment debtor against whom an application is requested. On a consolidated attachment of earnings order, a fee of 10p for every £1, or part £1, of money paid into court, is deducted from the money before it is paid out to the creditors.
Role of the court
Upon receiving an application for an attachment of earnings order the court may require the judgment debtor to:
- pay the money owed;
- provide details about his employment, income and expenditure.
The court will examine the statement of means by the judgment debtor to determine the amount the judgment debtor is able to pay. However, any repayment is subject to the protected earnings rate.
The protected earnings rate is the amount of money a judgment debtor requires to maintain himself and his family on a weekly or monthly basis. If the judgment debtor’s earnings exceed that of the protected rate an order will be made.
The protected earnings rate includes:
- usual bills such as electricity and gas.
Order by the court
An order by the court will be sent to the judgment debtor’s employers who will be instructed to:
- make periodical deductions from the judgment debtor’s earnings;
- pay the amount to the collecting officer as specified in the order or as the court may decide.
It is possible for the judgment debtor to make the payments directly to the creditor subject to the court’s agreement.
Recovering the debt
An attachment of earnings order is an effective way of recovering an outstanding debt. However, payment may not be received if the judgment debtor:
- becomes unemployed;
- changes jobs;
- is not earning enough money to make payments
If a judgment debtor has changed jobs, a creditor can request from the court a reissue of the order to the new employer.
The county court has jurisdiction to hear applications for an attachment of earnings order. The magistrates’ courts also have limited authority to make an attachment of earnings order, such as enforcing payment of council tax arrears.