Beware of Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill 2015

The Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill 2015 is due to be introduced as legislation by the end of the current Dáil term. You will no doubt have read about this in the context of water charges and the collection of these charges. However, it is not confined to water charges. The proposed legislation provides for the enforcement of certain categories of civil debts by means of attachment of earnings or deductions from social welfare payments where the debtor has a capacity to repay the monies owed.
What this means in practise is that creditors may apply to the Court for an order enabling either attachment of earnings or deductions from Social Welfare payments for the purpose of enforcing debt to which the legislation will apply.  In terms of the attachment of earnings, the court will order the debtor’s employer to deduct specified sums from the debtor’s earnings to pay over to the creditor.  Deduction from social welfare payments would arise where the court orders the Department of Social Protection to deduct specified sums from the debtor’s social welfare payments to pay over to the creditor. It will be interesting to see how the first of these cases will be dealt with by the local district courts.
Under the proposed legislation, the creditor must first obtain a judgment against the debtor in respect of the debt.  The judgment must be for not less than €500 but no greater than €4,000.  The application for such an order must be on notice to the debtor at which point the debtor may enter into negotiations with the creditor so as to avoid the court order.
There is provision in the legislation for the adjournment of court proceedings for a period that is reasonable if it appears to the court that the judgment debtor is likely to be able to pay the debt within a reasonable period of time.
The legislation also deals with compliance with an attachment of earnings order and it requires the employer to comply with the order but provides that he/she is not liable for noncompliance during the first 10 days.  This is to allow for the situation where the person served with the order is not the person’s employer in which case the person concerned is required to notify the court accordingly.  There is also provision in the legislation where an attachment of earnings order is in place, the judgment debtor must notify the creditor within 10 days of an increase of not less than €50 in earnings.
The legislation states that any person who becomes the employer of the judgment debtor and knows that an attachment order is in force is required to notify the judgment creditor in writing that he/she is the debtor’s employer and to provide details of the debtor’s earnings and expected earnings. Therefore there is a responsibility on an employer when employing individuals to at least seek that information.
It is important to note as an employer, that there are a number of penalties in respect of either making false or misleading statements or any contravention of the provisions. More responsibility for the employer.