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i The advice on this page applies to residents of Scotland only.

Diligence. What is it and what are my rights?

If you live in Scotland, diligence is the name for the action a creditor can take to recover a debt after court action.

Diligence is only used to collect debts in Scotland. If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland the process works differently.

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When can diligence be used?

Your creditor can start diligence when one of the following happens:

  • The sheriff court issues a decision/decree which orders you to pay the full debt straight away
  • A ‘time to pay direction’ was agreed, allowing you to pay the debt in instalments, but you’ve not kept up with the payment
  • The sheriff court issues a summary warrant for debts such as council tax or tax debts owed to HM Revenue & Customs

Prior to any diligence starting you should have received a ‘Charge to Pay’ or a ‘Charge for Payment’.

What is a charge to pay or charge for payment?

The Charge to Pay or the Charge for Payment is the final formal action which creditors need to take to enable them to commence diligence (enforcement) for the recovery of debt.

  • Charge to Pay is normally for debts up to £5,000
  • Charge for Payment is normally for debts of £5,000 or more

If a creditor wants to start diligence, in most cases they have to send you a document called a ‘charge to pay’ or a ‘charge for payment’ first. This is normally delivered in person by a sheriff officer and it gives you 14 days to pay the debt before further action can be taken. If you’ve not paid the debt before the end of this period, the creditor can begin diligence.

Following a charge to pay/charge for payment, a creditor could also begin bankruptcy proceedings if your debt is more than £3,000.

As well as a charge to pay/charge for payment, in some cases your creditor will have to send you a copy of the Accountant in Bankruptcy Debt Advice and Information Package booklet. This explains in straightforward terms what action can be taken to collect a debt, and which organisations can help you, including us.

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What actions can a creditor take using diligence?

There are several methods of collecting an unpaid decision/decree or summary warrant, and the creditor will select the method they think is most likely to get their money back, based on your personal circumstances. They may use more than one method.

Diligence methods include:

  • Earnings arrestment. This orders your employer to deduct a percentage of your income to pay to the debt
  • Bank arrestment. This freezes money in your bank account. If you don’t voluntarily pay the money to the debt your creditor can then apply for a ‘furthcoming’ which orders your bank to hand over the money. Not all of the money in your account will be frozen, and if the creditor hasn’t applied for furthcoming within 14 weeks, your account will be unfrozen
  • Inhibition order. This stops you selling your home until you pay the debt. If you want to move home, the debt will need to be paid from the sale of your house.
  • Attachment (Goods outside home).This allows sheriff officers to seize goods you own. If you don’t pay the debt , they can then return and remove these goods to sell them. Attachment only applies to goods kept outside your home, for example a car. Some goods are protected from attachment, for example tools (up to the value of £1,000) needed to do your job, or a car that is reasonably required worth under £3,000
  • Money attachment. This is similar to an attachment, but applies to cash or cheques you keep outside your home. This means it’s usually only used to collect debts from businesses not from individuals
  • Exceptional attachment order. This is similar to an attachment, but allows sheriff officers to take goods from inside your home too.  A creditor needs permission from the sheriff court before they can take this action, and it should only be used as a last resort. Some essential household goods are protected and can’t be taken, and you can apply to the court to have some attached goods released

Free help and support

If you’ve received any court paperwork or a charge to pay/ charge for payment, or if you think diligence has started, you need to contact us. We’ll be able to give you the expert advice you need to get your situation back on track.