Attachment of Earnings: A Simplified Guide for Employers

Attachment of earnings calculations

In this article we break down attachment of earnings into simple terms, focusing on what you need to know as employers, HR professionals, and small business owners.

What is an attachment of earnings?

An attachment of earnings order (AEO) is a legal tool used to collect debts directly from someone's earnings. When an employee owes money and hasn't paid it back, the court can issue this order. It requires the debtor's employer to take a part of the employee's earnings and send it to the court or the organization the employee owes money to.

This way, debts like unpaid loans, council tax arrears, or child support can be paid back directly from the employee's salary before they even see it.

How and why they are issued?

In the UK, an attachment of earnings is usually issued after a county court judgment (CCJ) when someone hasn't made the required payments towards their debt. The court decides to use this method as a way to ensure the debtor pays back what they owe.

It's not just about the court getting involved; it's a structured way to help manage debt repayment in a way that's sustainable for the debtor, based on their personal budget and monthly earnings.

The court assesses the debtor's financial situation, including their earnings and living costs, and sets a protected earnings rate to ensure they're not left with too little money to live on.

Types of attachment orders

There are several types of attachment orders, each designed for different kinds of debts:

  • Council tax arrears: When someone falls behind on their council tax payments, the local council can request an order to deduct owed amounts directly from wages.

  • Child support: The Child Maintenance Service can issue an order to ensure that child support payments are made directly from the non-residential parent's earnings.

  • Credit debts and loans: After a county court judgment for unpaid credit card bills, loans, or other credit debts, a creditor can request an attachment of earnings to secure repayment.

  • Consolidated attachment orders: In cases where a person owes money to multiple creditors, a district judge can issue a single order that consolidates all debts into one monthly payment, simplifying the repayment process.

These orders are a way to balance the need for creditors to get back the money they're owed with the debtor's ability to make payments without facing financial hardship. It ensures a fair system where debts are repaid in manageable amounts directly from the debtor's earnings.

What is included in the attachment of orders?

When you get an attachment of earnings order, it's not just a single piece of paper. It comes with several important bits of information and forms.

This packet is designed to make sure you, as an employer, have all the details you need to follow the court's instructions properly. Let's look at what's typically included:

  • Court order: This is the main document. It tells you that you need to start taking money from your employee's earnings to pay off their debt.
  • Earnings orders details: You'll find specifics about how much needs to be deducted from the employee's pay.
  • Court fees: Sometimes, there are fees associated with processing these orders, and you'll be informed about them.
  • Court officer contact: If you have any questions or need clarification, this section provides details on how to get in touch with the court officer handling the case.
  • Witness statement and budget summary: These documents give insight into the debtor's financial situation, helping the court decide on the deduction amount.
  • Reply form: You're required to fill this out and return it within eight calendar days to confirm that you've received the order and will comply.
  • Information on other debts and suspended orders: If the debtor has other debts or if there's a suspended attachment of earnings order, this information will be included to provide a complete picture.

Understanding each part of this packet is crucial for properly implementing the court's instructions and ensuring you're not taking too much money from your employee's pay.

How much can be taken on attachment of earnings?

The amount that can be taken from an employee's earnings through an attachment of earnings order in the UK depends on several factors, including the employee's earnings level, their living expenses, and the type of debt they owe.

The court uses a detailed process to ensure that the amount deducted is fair and leaves the employee with enough money to cover basic living costs. Here's a simplified explanation:

  • Court's calculation: The court looks at the debtor's net earnings (after taxes and National Insurance) and calculates a "protected earnings rate." This is the minimum amount the employee needs to live on, based on their expenses.

  • Deduction rates: The actual amount taken from the earnings varies, but it's designed to be a manageable portion of the debtor's disposable income, ensuring they're not left with too much money.

  • Debt advice and solution: The court order may also suggest debt advice or solutions to the debtor, helping them manage their finances better in the future.

  • Consolidated orders and new employer: If the debtor changes jobs, the order can be transferred to the new employer. For individuals with multiple debts, a consolidated order may be issued, simplifying the repayment process.

The specific deduction amounts and rules can be complex, and they are tailored to each individual's circumstances to ensure fairness. Employers are advised to follow the court's instructions carefully and provide all necessary details when requested.

If there's uncertainty, seeking debt advice or contacting the court directly for guidance is a sensible step.

The impact on employee payroll

When you receive an attachment of earnings order for one of your employees, it changes how you handle their payroll. This isn't just about taking money out of their paycheck. It's about carefully following legal instructions while making sure your employee can still cover their living costs.

Let's dive into what this means for your payroll process and how to manage it correctly.

Calculating the deduction: Factors to consider

Calculating the deduction isn't about picking a number out of thin air. It's a careful process that ensures fairness to everyone involved. Here are the main factors you need to consider:

  • Disposable income: This is what your employee has left after taxes and other mandatory deductions. It's from this amount that any attachment of earnings will be made.

  • Protected earnings rate: The court sets this rate to make sure your employee has enough money to live on after the deduction. It's crucial to get this number right.

  • Other deductions: If there are any other legal deductions being made from your employee's salary, these need to be considered to avoid taking too much.

  • Employee's living costs: While you might not have detailed insight into this, the protected earnings rate aims to reflect it, ensuring your employee isn't left short for their basic needs.

The process of making deductions: Step-by-step guide

Now, let's walk through the steps you'll take to make these deductions from your employee's paycheck:

  1. Review the order: Start by carefully reading the attachment of earnings order to understand the amount you need to deduct and any specific instructions or deadlines.

  2. Calculate disposable income: Figure out the employee's disposable income after taxes and other mandatory deductions.

  3. Apply the protected earnings rate: Use the protected earnings rate provided in the order to ensure you're not deducting more than allowed, keeping your employee's livelihood in mind.

  4. Make the deduction: Once you've done the math, deduct the specified amount from the employee's earnings before they receive their pay.

  5. Send the deducted amount: Forward the deducted amount to the court or creditor as instructed in the order. Make sure this is done within the timeframe specified.

  6. Keep records: Document every deduction and payment made in response to the order. This is important for legal compliance and for answering any questions that might arise later.

  7. Inform the employee: While the court will notify your employee about the attachment of earnings, it's good practice to also communicate with them about how it will affect their paycheck, maintaining transparency and trust.

Handling an attachment of earnings order responsibly means balancing legal compliance with care for your employee's financial well-being. By following these steps, you can navigate this process smoothly and keep your payroll in good shape.

Employer responsibilities and legal compliance


When your business gets an attachment of earnings order, it's not just about making deductions from an employee's pay. It means you've got some important responsibilities. Let's go through what you need to do to stay on the right side of the law and make sure everything runs smoothly.

Penalties for non-compliance: Understanding the consequences

In the UK, employers must comply with an attachment of earnings order by deducting specified amounts from an employee's wages to cover debts such as fines or child maintenance. Failing to follow the order can result in legal consequences including fines or imprisonment for employers.

The order will detail the deduction amount, protected earnings rate, and payment instructions. Employers are advised to start deductions from the next wage payment and ensure the employee's net pay does not fall below a minimum threshold​​​​. Compliance and accurate record-keeping are crucial to avoid penalties.

Keeping accurate records: What you need to document and for how long

Documenting every step is key. Here's what you need to keep track of:

  • The original order: Keep a copy of the attachment of earnings order itself.
  • Calculations: Record how you calculated the deductions, including the employee's disposable income and the protected earnings rate.
  • Deductions made: Note down each deduction made from the employee's pay, including dates and amounts.
  • Payments to the court or creditor: Keep receipts or confirmations of the payments you've made as required by the order.
  • Communications: Document any discussions you've had with the employee about the order.

You should keep these records for at least six years, which is the standard period for financial documents in many areas. This ensures that you can provide any necessary documentation if there are questions or legal issues in the future.

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Understanding attachment of earnings orders is crucial for both employers and employees in the UK. These legal directives ensure debts are paid directly from an employee's wages, with clear guidelines on calculation and compliance to protect both parties.

Employers must navigate these orders carefully to avoid legal repercussions, while employees have options to manage or even suspend such orders under certain conditions.

Ultimately, the goal is to facilitate debt repayment in a way that balances the creditor's rights with the debtor's ability to maintain a basic standard of living​​​​.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Yes, it's possible to stop an attachment of earnings by paying off the debt in full. Additionally, the debtor can request a suspension of the order (a "suspended order") by making voluntary payments directly to the creditor, provided they can convince the court of their ability to keep up with these payments.

    This option is considered if providing evidence of financial hardship or potential job loss due to the order​​​​

  • An attachment of earnings lasts until the full amount of the debt specified in the order is paid off. The duration depends on the total debt amount and the rate at which deductions are made from the employee's earnings.

    The order specifies the deduction rate and the protected earnings rate, ensuring the employee retains enough income for living expenses while gradually paying off the debt​​​​.

Topic: Payroll EN
Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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