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Sheriff court decrees on debt

A decree is a formal order from the court saying you must pay money to a creditor.

Decrees do not expire. The decree will be noted on your credit file for six years from the judgement date, and will show as satisfied once it has been paid.

If the court issues a decree and you have been given time to pay, your creditor cannot take action to recover their money.

The enforcement of debt following court action in Scotland is called diligence. This can take a number of forms, including:

  • earnings arrestment – regular deductions from your wages at source
  • bank arrestment – the freezing of funds in your bank account
  • attachment – a sheriff officer can 'attach' certain items kept outside your home, for example in a garage or shed

Before your creditor takes any action, they'll normally ask a sheriff officer to serve you with a charge for payment. This is a formal document telling you that unless you pay your debt or apply for time to pay, your creditor can enforce payment. You'll usually have 14 days to make the payment.

Asking for time to pay

If you admit the claim against you, you can ask for time to pay the money. You should apply for this when responding to the claim.

If you do not respond in time and a decree is granted against you, you can still apply for time to pay if the claim is less than £5,000. You may also be able to negotiate payments by instalments with your creditor if you have not asked for time to pay within the time limits or the sheriff has refused your application.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help you with asking for time to pay.

If the court grants you time to pay, that particular creditor cannot take further action against you. This is as long as you continue to make the agreed payments.

Other creditors may still be able to take action against you.


A creditor may prevent you from selling or transferring ownership of a property, or taking out any further loans against it. This is to make sure you cannot use the money from the sale of your home, or loans against it, to pay for anything else.

They cannot take possession or sell the property.

Money attachment

A creditor may instruct a sheriff officer to seize money, postal orders or cheques held on your premises. Money kept in your home cannot be attached, so a money attachment is normally used on a business premises.

Recalling a decree

In certain circumstances, you may be able to apply to the court to have the decree or decision of the sheriff recalled. For example, if you had no knowledge of the case.

View more about recalling a degree on the National Debtline website.

Further information and assistance

Further information, advice and assistance on dealing with debt is available from organisations including:

Visit the Citizens Advice Scotland website for advice on debt and money and actions a creditor can take.

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