The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. The information contained in this publication is intended only as a guide to relevant legislation/policy. The information is accurate as at the date listed at the bottom of the page, but may be subject to change. To discuss individual circumstances please contact Services Australia. Debt recovery by garnishee notice


A debt may be recovered by means of a garnishee notice. A garnishee notice may be issued to any person, third party, or organisation.

From 1 January 2017, actions to recover a PLP, family assistance or other social security debt, can be commenced at any time.

Who can a garnishee notice be issued to?

A written garnishee notice (1.1.G.10) must be issued to any person:

  • by whom any money is due or accruing, or may become due, to the original debtor
  • who holds, or may subsequently hold, money for or on behalf of the original debtor
  • who holds, or may subsequently hold, money on account of some other person for payment to the debtor, or
  • who has authority from some other person to pay money to the original debtor.

Example: A garnishee notice can be issued to a person's employer, bank or solicitor.

Centrelink must give a copy of the garnishee notice to the original debtor. This notice may be written or it may be electronically transmitted.

Amount covered by a garnishee notice

The amount covered by a garnishee notice is:

  • the amount to be recovered, not exceeding the amount of the original debt or the amount the garnishee owes or holds in relation to the debtor
  • the amount of each payment that the garnishee becomes liable to make to the original debtor, until the original debt is satisfied, or
  • the percentage of each payment that the garnishee becomes liable to make to the original debtor, until the original debt is satisfied.

Explanation: The amount that can be recovered relates to the amount the person owes or will owe or hold for the original debtor.

When the payment must be made

The date by which payment must be made is specified in the notice. This date cannot be before either:

  • the money becomes due or is held by the garnishee debtor, or
  • the end of the period of 14 days after the notice is given.

Compliance with a garnishee notice

A person cannot refuse or fail to comply with a garnishee notice to the extent to which they are capable of complying with the notice. The penalty for non-compliance is 12 months imprisonment.

The amount of the debt outstanding is:

  • as much of the amount required by the garnishee notice as the garnishee was able to pay
  • as much of the debt due by the original debtor when the notice was given as remains due from time to time.

If a garnishee fails to comply with the garnishee notice, the amount of the debt outstanding is a debt due to the Commonwealth by the garnishee. The debt may be recovered by legal proceedings, or a further garnishee notice and the person may have to pay penalty interest.

If an amount is recovered from either the garnishee debtor or the original debtor, the amount reduces the balance of both debts. The amount of the unpaid debt stated in the garnishee notice is taken to be reduced by the amount so recovered.

These garnishee provisions apply to an amount regardless of any law of a state or territory under which the amount may be inalienable. If money is to be paid to the debtor only if a condition is met, then the money is taken to be due on demand even if the condition is not met.

Act reference: PPLAct section 184 Garnishee notices—general, section 185 Garnishee notices—amounts paid in compliance, section 186 Garnishee notices—debt for failure to comply with notice, section 187 Garnishee notices—offence for non-compliance, section 188 Garnishee notices—relationship with other laws

Garnishee of joint bank accounts

A garnishee notice cannot be issued against a joint bank account because it is not possible to identify any portion as belonging solely to one owner.

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