Council Tax: Attachment of Earnings – Things To Consider

11/09/2019

Council Tax: Attachment of Earnings – Things To Consider

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If you’ve been struggling to pay your council tax, you may have received a letter notifying you of an arrestment of earnings. This can be a stressful and confusing situation to be in, so it’s good to know as much as you can about what’s going to happen.

As such, we’ve created this guide to talk you through what an arrestment of earnings is, how it works and offer advice on how to stop it from happening.

What is Attachment of Earnings?

In Scotland, an arrestment of earnings is what’s commonly known as a form of diligence – a legal term for any processes that are used to recover debts.

Put simply, it allows the council to take the money you owe them by having it deducted from your wages.

Your employer has no choice in the matter and can take the money either on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. However, they are only able to take certain amounts and cannot leave you with no money to live on.

They usually last until the debt has been paid in full, which normally includes any interest or charges that have been added.

What happens when a creditor applies for an attachment of earnings order?

Earnings arrestments can only be served by a Sherriff officer or messenger at arms, which means it has to go through the courts.

When it comes to council tax, a Summary Warrant must be obtained from the court, and before the arrestment can be executed, they must serve you a Charge of Payment. This is a legal document that orders you to pay the balance in full within 14 days.

If you do not pay within this time, then this is the stage where the sheriff officer can be instructed to serve the earnings arrestment.

The council will look for this to be done as quickly as possible so that the debt can be repaid in as little time as possible. You will receive notification of when the first deduction will be taken, but if you’re unsure then you can always check with your payroll.

How much do you have to pay to an earnings arrestment order?

How much is deducted from your wages depends on how much you earn and how often you are paid. It’s calculated as a percentage of your net earnings, meaning if you earn below a certain level then no payment will be taken.

We’ve broke this down for you below based on deductions taken from someone monthly:

Less than £529.90: no deductions

£529.90 – £1,915.32: 19% of earnings above the lower amount

£1,915.32 – £2,879.52: 23% of earnings above the lower amount

Above £2,879.52: 50% of earnings above the lower amount

As you can see these percentages can get quite high, meaning that a significant chunk of your money can end up being taken from you. As such it’s better to try and avoid the arrestment if you can.

Can the amount that is taken change?

As the deductions are based on what you earn, they can be increased if you earn any extra income such as a bonus, overtime or commission.

This also works in reverse if your income drops for whatever reason.

What should I do if I think there’s been an error?

Given the process it takes for an earnings arrestment to be served, it’s very unlikely that there will have been any errors. However, it’s not impossible.

If you think you’ve received an earnings arrestment that isn’t for you or shouldn’t be in place, then the best course of action is to contact the council that applied for it as soon as possible to rectify the matter.

Can an earnings arrestment affect your job?

An earning arrestment shouldn’t really affect your job, but having money problems in general can.

Depending on your job, your may be required to tell your employer of any financial difficulty under your contract – especially if you work in the financial sector. However, it is important to note that an earnings arrestment cannot be enforced on anyone working in the armed forces.

What happens if I move to a different job?

If you move jobs, then it’s important to let your new employer know about the earnings arrestment as soon as possible to make sure that you are doing everything by the book.

In some instances, there can be a delay in information being passed from one company to another in terms of tax codes and relevant deductions, so make sure you keep everyone up to date to avoid any backdated payments being taken.

Can I make other arrangements to pay the debt without involving my employer?

Unfortunately, this is not possible as once it has been served, the debt has to be paid through the earnings arrestment and it cannot be taken back – which is why it’s best to take action before it reaches this stage.

No need to panic though, as data protection law means your employer cannot release your details to anyone except those who need your financial information, i.e. your payroll team.

What happens if I’m off work sick or on maternity leave?

If you are off sick and are in receipt of sick pay, then the deductions will still be taken as normal, although the amount will likely be less if your income is lower during this time. If your earnings go below the threshold, then you will need to check with the council or your payroll department that the arrestment will be put on hold.

In regard to maternity pay, the council cannot take deductions from any statutory pay you receive. However, they can take them from any maternity pay that is paid to you by your employer – you can again check this with your payroll department.

What happens if I become unemployed?

If you become unemployed through redundancy or retirement settlement, deductions will not be taken from any payments you receive. However, that doesn’t mean it’s been cancelled.

If you get a new job then it will start again, and you must inform the court of your new employer as it is a criminal offence if you don’t. If you are going to be out of work for a long period of time, you can apply to have the order cancelled altogether.

Can you stop an attachment of earnings order?

Our best advice is to sort out your council tax arrears as soon as possible to avoid it reaching the earnings arrestment stage altogether. You can do this by contacting them straight away after receiving the charge for payment and arranging a payment plan.

The council are also obligated to give you the option to get some financial help. Most of the time an earnings arrestment will only come about due to communication breaking down, and it should always be the case that the payments are affordable to you.

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