An online Survey of people with earning arrestments in Scotland, believed to be the first of its type, has been carried out by Advice Scotland, and shows that many people in Scotland are experiencing extreme hardship as a result of funds being taken off their wages to pay debts.
The Survey which I have been running for the last few months, has had 46 responses from people in Scotland and paints a picture of families struggling with mental health problems, trying to find the money to pay for essentials and being trapped in a cycle of debt that they cannot escape from.
“Can’t pay current council tax due to this. They are taking over £400 per month off my wages. I work part time as does my husband. I have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and this is why I reduced to 30 hours. This may force me to go back to full time and ultimately effect my physical health“Survey Respondent
In some cases it shows people having to leave jobs, in an attempt to escape wage arrestments.
Releasing this Survey at this time is important, as currently in the Scottish Parliament, there is a new Bankruptcy and Diligence Bill being considered at Stage One by the Economy and Fair Work Committee.
Unfortunately, the Bill does not contain any measures that would alleviate the worst effects of Wage Arrestments and although it does contain a measure that would freeze action by Creditors when people are experiencing a Mental Health Crisis, my research has shown, the new Mental Health Moratorium is unlikely to help more than 50 people a year in Scotland, if it follows the model used in the Mental Health Breathing Space Scheme that already exists in England and Wales.
My view is if the Scottish Government want to do more to tackle the problem of debt and mental health, it has to do more to remove the undue hardship that many experience with wage arrestments and this cannot be done solely by Local Authorities, as some debt charities have called for, but only by the Scottish Parliament changing the law so creditors can be more flexible when people are experiencing problems.
I called for this in April 2022, when I gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Social Justice and Security Committee as part of their Low Income and Debts enquiry.
This power, allowing creditors to be more flexible with people in debt, when they have a wage arrestment, currently does not exist in relation to Scottish Earning Arrestments, but is a power the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) have when they execute Direct Earning Attachments for overpaid benefits.
I am calling for the Scottish Government to bring forward this measure in this new Bill, as it will allow more flexibility and compassion to be shown by Creditors and will help prevent mental health problems developing.
I am also calling for the Scottish Government to increase the Protected Minimum Amount in an Earning Arrestment from £655.83 each month to £1,000, to bring it into line with the Protected Minimum Balance in Bank Account Arrestments and the minimum amount people get to keep when they are made bankrupt.
“I am now stuck in the vicious circle of being unable to pay current year’s council taxes due to wage arrestment to pay off previous years”Survey Respondent
What are Wage Arrestments?
There are 7 different types of wage arrestments in Scotland that can be used by creditors and insolvency practitioners to seize people’s wages, sometimes for council tax arrears, overpaid benefit or missed child maintenance arrears, and this often leads to multiple arrestments being carried out on people’s earnings at the same time.
The most common type that people reported as having in the Survey, was Scottish Earning Arrestments, with those accounting for 82% of all the arrestments people reported.
Scottish Earning Arrestments are by far the most common type of arrestment of earnings used in Scotland and in the 2022-23 Scottish Diligence Statistics, it was report 52,785 were executed by Scottish Creditors. Of these 99% were executed by Scottish Local Authorities for Council Tax Debts.
It was also reported in March 2023 by the Scottish Government Minister, Tom Arthur (MSP) in a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy and Fair Work Committee, that in 2021-22 Scottish Local Authorities reported recovering £27.5 M using over 35,000 arrestments.
The Survey responses showed a trail of misery for many of those who responded to it, with 95% of those who responded saying they were left unable to pay for essentials, whilst 82% complained they had fallen into arrears and been left unable to pay other debts as a result of their wage arrestment.
This is particularly worrying, as traditionally in Scots Law its been well established that this area of law, legally known as diligence, although harsh, should never be unduly harsh.
However, the survey shows that wage arrestments for many are now unduly harsh, leaving families struggling to pay for essentials and becoming trapped in a vicious cycle of debt.
“£115 a week is a lot that’s a food shop or something else and I’m off work with fractured ribs at the minute. I just worry what’s going to happen.”
“Household direct debits unpaid due to arrestment being made without myself knowing”Survey Respondent
Fifty percent (50%) said the arrestment was leaving them struggling, whilst nearly a third said it was harsh and 11% stated that the arrestment was having an unduly harsh effect on their household
Debt and Mental Health
The Survey also shows that 51% of those who responded also stated they had mental health problems, whilst some of the responses also noted that the respondents mental health had suffered as a result of the wage arrestment.
“I am finding it really hard to keep my head above water it is affecting my metal health. The amount the courts are taking off my wages leaves me struggling to pay my current debt as I am the only person bringing income in to my house”
“My mental health has deteriorated and made it even harder for me to work which is then having negative impact on my physical health”
“This arrestment has worsened my mental health as I feel every time I get a pay rise I’m no better off. I don’t mind having to pay, but it is the amount that is the problem. I’m 50 years old and I feel I will be paying this until I retire”
Impact on Employment
Worryingly, the Survey has also shown that wage arrestments can often have an impact on people’s employment, with 39% stating they had considered leaving their jobs after a wage arrestment was executed on their wages.
“Added to stress, unhappy household and I am seriously considering quitting my job as I do only work part time”Survey Respondent
“I have just been informed of a second wage arrestment, this will mean I am getting circa £400 / £500 taken from my monthly wage. I am considering changing employment due to this.”Survey Respondent
Making Arrestments Fairer
Of those Survey 95% felt their situation could be helped if the arrestment could be made more affordable, but as noted above, even when a wage arrestment is unduly harsh in Scotland, Creditors do not have the power to vary the amount people have to pay, unlike the DWP, who can use UK legislation to vary the amount that is taken by a Direct Earning Attachments.
Eighty-six percent (86%) also said they supported the Protected Minimum Amount in wage arrestments being increased to £1,000 by the Scottish Parliament, to bring the level of protections into line with those for bank account arrestments.