So you’ve got bills piling up left, right and centre: Credit cards, store cards, council tax arrears… you name it.
Now you’ve been issued with a Charge for Payment. A quick Google tells you that this is pretty serious. If you don’t pay the debt in full within the next 14 days then your creditors, it seems, have a whole arsenal of legal powers at their disposal to reclaim the debt.
In this article, we’re going to look in depth at one of their main powers: wage arrestment. This is the power granted to sheriff officers to deduct money directly from your wages.
It’s fair to say that nobody wants to have control over their wages taken away from them.
It’s humiliating. It could cause further financial difficulty. It could even cost you your job.
Luckily, there’s plenty that we can do before it gets to this stage.
We’ll look at the legislation which gives sheriff officers the power to deduct money from your wages, how much they can take and what you can do to prevent wage arrestment.
What is Wage Arrestment in Scotland?
Wage arrestment, also known as “earnings arrestment” (or “attachment of earnings” in the rest of the UK), is a form of diligence, the name given to various forms of debt enforcement in Scotland.
A sheriff officer may issue an Earnings Arrestment Order (EAO) to recuperate any unpaid and overdue debt. This is in line with Schedule 2 of the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987.
This form of diligence is most commonly used by local councils to recover council tax debt.
A sheriff officer will give your employer an earning arrestment schedule, which instructs your employer to make regular deductions from your wages each month until this debt is settled.
When can an Earnings Arrestment Order be issued?
If you were a couple of days late for your last council tax payment or the gas bill slipped your mind, don’t worry – this isn’t sufficient reason to bring an Earnings Arrestment Order against you.
An Earnings Arrestment Order can only be issued once the following conditions have been met:
Notice has been provided of several attempts to reclaim the debt.
A Charge for Payment has been issued, giving you 14 days to repay the debt in full or arrange a repayment schedule.
If you are issued with an Earnings Arrestment Order, you must provide details of your employment, your national insurance number and bank account details, otherwise you will receive an additional fine for noncompliance.
Who can receive an Earnings Arrestment Order?
Most people who are employed can have their wages arrested. However, there are some exceptions:
Serving members of the armed forces are exempt from wage arrestment.
The debt must be in excess of £50.
Your earnings must also be above the threshold, outlined below.
How much of my wages can be taken by Wage Arrestment?
Though wage arrestment is intended to be punitive and to ensure that any outstanding debt gets paid off, there are restrictions in place to ensure that you are left with enough money for any necessities.
The amount that will be taken from your wages to pay off the debt depends on how much and how frequently you are paid. All deductions are made from your net income (after tax).
A portion of your income is completely exempt from Wage Arrestment. A percentage of the remainder of your earnings is deducted and sent to your creditor. As of the 6th April 2019, the minimum amount you must earn before deductions are made is:
Daily Earnings: £17.42
Weekly Earnings: £122.28
Monthly Earnings: £529.90
You can calculate the amount that would be deducted from your earnings using the table below:
DEDUCTIONS FROM DAILY EARNINGS
Net earnings (post-tax)
Up to £17.42
Above £17.42 but less than £62.97
£0.50 or 19% of earnings above £17.42, whichever is the greater
Above £62.97 but less than £94.67
£8.65 plus 23% of earnings above £62.97
£15.95 plus 50% of earnings above £94.67
DEDUCTIONS FROM WEEKLY EARNINGS
Net earnings (post tax)
Up to £122.28
Above £122.28 but less than £442.00
£4.00 or 19% of earnings above £122.28, whichever is the greater
Above £442.00 but less than £664.50
£60.75 plus 23% of earnings above £442.00
£111.92 plus 50% of earnings above £664.50
DEDUCTIONS FROM MONTHLY EARNINGS
Net earnings (post-tax)
Up to £529.90
Above £529.90 but less than £1,915.32
£15.00 or 19% of earnings above £529.90, whichever is the greater
Will my employer know that I have an Earnings Arrestment Order?
While this could make for some pretty embarrassing encounters in the staff cafeteria, there is no way around this.
Your employer is unlikely to look favourably on an Earnings Arrestment Order, as the legal requirement to deduct money from your wages lies with them. This means extra administrative work for them.
Your employer has the right to subtract an additional £1 from your wages as an administration fee each time money is deducted from your salary.
Can I face disciplinary action at work for an Earnings Arrestment Order?
There may be a clause in your employment contract which states that disciplinary action may take place in the event of a wage arrestment. This is most likely to be the case if you work for a financial institution.
In this instance, you can apply to the court for a Suspended Attachment of Earnings Order. You may be able to prevent your wage from being arrested if you are able to provide strong evidence of why the wage arrestment should be suspended. Such evidence may include disciplinary proceedings being brought against you or the threat of dismissal.
Can an employer refuse to action an Earnings Arrestment Order?
There is a limited time-period for an employer to implement a wage arrestment. Should the employer fail to arrest your wages after having been lawfully instructed to do so, they will be held liable to the creditor for the amount that should have been deducted from your wages.
Your employer may be taken to court for failing to action an Earnings Arrestment Order. They will then be ordered to pay the amount or they may have to face the sheriff officers themselves.
Can I have more than one Earnings Arrestment Order at once?
Yes, this may occur when you owe more than one creditor money and they have each arrested your wages at the same time.
The amount deducted each pay day will remain the same. However, the sheriff clerk of the local sheriff court will be responsible for dividing the money that is arrested between each creditor, and it will therefore take longer to repay each debt.
What happens if I get a new job with a different employer?
If you change jobs, the earnings arrestment will stop as the previous employer will no longer be responsible for your wages.
If your previous employer is aware of the details of your new employer, they may be instructed to provide these to the sheriff officers. The wage arrestment may therefore follow you into your new employment.
How can I prevent Wages Arrestment?
There are a number of legal steps you can take if you think that you are at risk of an Earnings Arrestment Order. Each has their advantages and disadvantages, and you should consult a debt advisor to discuss the best option for you.
A Statutory Moratorium gives you six weeks protection from any form of legal recovery action and gives you the opportunity to seek debt advice. You can register for this by speaking with a money advisor, and may wish to do so if you have already been issued with a Charge for Payment.
Time to Pay
As a debtor, you will have two opportunities to apply for a Time to Pay. These can prevent an Earnings Arrestment Order from being issued against you.
Time to Pay Direction
You will be able to apply for a Time to Pay Direction (TTPD) once a court action has been raised against you.
This will allow you to pay the decree by a lump sum payment, or in weekly or monthly instalments. You will be issued with a form to apply for the TTPD with the court summons or ‘writ’ that you will receive before a decree is made.
If the Time to Pay Direction is granted, then no further steps can be taken against you. This means they cannot serve a charge for payment, arrest your wages or your bank account or apply for an attachment or exceptional attachment order.
Time to Pay Order
You can apply for a Time to Pay Order after a charge for payment or bank arrestment has been served on you. If granted, this will freeze any forms of diligence which have been taken against you.
The expectation for both the Time to Pay Direction and Time to Pay Order is that you will be able to pay off the entire debt within a 2 year period.
It is worth noting that neither the Time to Pay Direction nor the Time to Pay Order can be issued against:
debts which exceed £25,000;
awards in connection with divorce;
Income tax, VAT or car tax.
After you have applied for a Time to Pay, you cannot apply for a second Time to Pay, so speak with your advisor to make sure this is definitely the best route to go down initially.
Debt Arrangement Scheme
A Debt Arrangement Scheme (DAS) is a form of debt management available only in Scotland. It lets you apply for a Debt Payment Programme so that you can repay all of your debts in affordable monthly payments.
If the debt which you are being pursued for is already on a Debt Payment Programme under the Debt Arrangement Scheme then you cannot have your wages arrested for this debt.
If you apply for a Debt Payment Programme and it is approved, your earning arrestment will be immediately lifted. All interest and charges applied to the debt will also be frozen and you will usually have longer to repay the total debt than you would with a Time to Pay.
Bankruptcy (Sequestration) and Protected Trust Deeds
Both sequestration and Protected Trust Deeds can prevent wage arrestments or, if they have already been arrested, can lift the arrestment order once they have been approved
Wage arrestment is not something anybody should have to go through.
We know that it can put unnecessary pressure on family and work relations.
But it is important to remember that you’re not the only one and that there are a number of solutions available depending on your situation. Choosing the right course of action requires careful consideration and you should contact a qualified expert for advice.
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Barry John Stewart and George Dylan Lafferty are authorised to act as insolvency practitioners in Glasgow and the UK by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS).
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