Sheriff court decrees on debt

Last updated: 8 January 2018

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

If the court has issued a decree and you have been given time to pay, your creditor can then 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 – a formal document informing you that unless you pay your debt or apply for time to pay, your creditor is entitled to 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 don't 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 haven't 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 can't take further action against you 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 can't use the money from the sale of your home, or loans against it, to pay for anything else.

They can't 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 can't be attached, so a money attachment is normally used on a business premises.

Further information and assistance

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

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