If you’ve fallen behind with your council tax payments, you might have been contacted about an ‘attachment of earnings order’.
If you’re not totally sure what this means or you’ve got questions, you’re in the right place.
Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know about a council tax attachment of earnings order – including; what it is, how much it might be for, how your employer will handle it, how to deal with errors, and how you might be able to avoid it altogether.
An attachment of earnings is a way of forcing you to pay back a debt that’s owed – by taking money from your pay before it gets to you. Most of the time, attachment of earnings orders happen because of unpaid council tax.
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If you fall behind on council tax payments, you’ll be sent letters and reminders – asking you to catch up with the debt. Normally, local councils are quite understanding – and they’ll let you pay back a reasonable amount. However, if you don’t contact them or you stop paying – they’ll take further action quickly.
This usually starts with applying for a County Court Judgment (CCJ) – where the magistrates court will order you to make repayments. If you don’t – or you start and then stop – the next step is applying for a ‘liability order’ – which then will progress into an attachment of earnings.
The local council will contact your employer – sending a legal proceeding that forces them to make a payment to them, out of your wages. Then, when you get your employee wage slip, you’ll see the debt repayment as a ‘deduction’ from the amount you’re paid – in the same way you see tax, national insurance, and pension contributions.
A bit like the other deductions that come out of your wages – the amount you pay will depend on how much you earn.
If you make less than £75 per week – or £300 per month, a council will not be able to deduct anything from your earnings. However, if you earn more than this, deductions will work on a sliding scale.
For all these earnings rate calculations, the amount you’re paid refers to ‘net’ earnings – that’s how much you actually take home. These deductions figures will give you a rough idea of how much you can expect to repay:
The order amount doesn’t change if you’re paid weekly – but we’ve broken those earnings down into weekly amounts to give you an idea of what you could expect to have deducted:
Everyone’s wages and working hours are different – but it’s fair to say that you’ll be paying a large chunk of money directly from your wages if you get an attachment of earnings order. The average take-home monthly wage in the UK is around £1,800 – which would mean your employer paying £300 directly to the local council to get you caught up on what you owe.
With this in mind, you can see why it’s so important to get trustworthy debt advice if you find yourself struggling with money. It’s far better to get back in control of your finances quickly – rather than let problems spiral out of control and be faced with no option other than letting the council take money directly.
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Yes – because the amount you pay is linked to your ‘net’ income, it means that if your net income changes – your creditor (the council services you owe money to) will take more money if you earn more money.
Of course, this works both ways – so if you find that your income drops, you will also pay less back.
You don’t have to let your employer know – but the council you owe the money to will get in touch and let them know that they have to start making the deduction anyway.
The person or department that handles payroll for your company will work with strict confidentiality rules – so you don’t have to worry about them telling anyone. However, there are some jobs (financial services, law, law enforcement, and others) where running into financial issues with a creditor could impact your ability to keep your job. If this is the case, you should let your employer’s Human Resources (HR) department know as soon as possible, so you can talk about what may happen next.
What happens to attachment of earnings orders when you’re sick depends on whether or not you’re paid for being off. If you receive your full pay, then your deductions will continue as normal. However, if your earnings drop or you move on to statutory sick pay, then the deduction is likely to also drop.
Councils cannot take money from employer maternity pay to pay off a council tax bill – but they can if your employer is paying you an amount that’s more than statutory maternity pay.
If you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to talk to the person at your company who looks after payroll – they’ll be able to explain what you’re being paid, and how much the council will take.
If you’ve got to the stage where a council is applying for an attachment of earnings order, you’ve almost certainly missed the chance to deal with the council tax debt by any other means.
Try not to panic though – you might feel like you’re the only person in this situation, but attachment of earnings orders are more common than most people realise, so your employer will have almost certainly handled them before.
If you’ve moved employment before, you’ll know that there can sometimes be a delay in tax codes and other paperwork getting to your new employer. This might mean there’s a slight delay in your attachment of earnings details being passed across too – but they will be applied again in your new role.
To make sure you’re not breaking the law or breaching the terms of the court order that put the attachment of earnings in place, you should let you new employer know as soon as possible.
If you work for a large company, there will be strict processes and procedures in place that mean your attachment of earnings is absolutely non-negotiable. However, if you’re an employee of a small company, it might be tempting to talk to the business owner to see if there’s a way around paying.
Be warned though – the attachment of earnings is a legal order from a court, so if your employer did stop paying, they could be prosecuted for committing a legal offence.
If you’re made redundant or otherwise laid off, your deductions will stop. You will not be forced to make a payment to the local council with any redundancy payments you receive.
Since there are so many steps in the process before you get to having a council tax attachment of earnings, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be given one in error.
However, errors do sometimes occur – so if you think you’ve had attachment of earnings deductions made by mistake, your first stop should be talking to your company’s payroll administrator about why it’s happened.
An attachment of earnings can be a huge chunk of money out of your wages – and if you’re already struggling with debts, earning even less money is likely to be the last thing you need.
With this in mind, you should seek trustworthy debt advice if you feel like you’re going to struggle to pay your council tax. This is especially true if you’ve already got a CCJ and can’t continue to make payments towards it. It’s always a good idea to talk to the council services you’re dealing with as soon as you know you’re going to miss a payment.
If you’re facing money problems, you might decide you need to look into a more permanent solution. Some debt solutions – like Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs) – can include council tax debts and freeze any additional charges and interest; leaving you with just a single, affordable monthly payment to make.
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