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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.

When can diligence be used?

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

  • The sheriff court issues an open decree which orders you to pay the full debt straight away
  • A ‘time to pay direction’ was agreed, allowing you to pay the decree 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

What is a charge for payment?

If a creditor wants to start diligence, in most cases they have to send you a document called 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 for payment, a creditor could also begin bankruptcy proceedings if your debt is more than £3,000.

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

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What actions can a creditor take using diligence?

There are several methods of collecting an unpaid 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 remainder of the debt will need to be paid from the sale of your house.
  • Attachment. This allows sheriff officers to seize goods you own. If you don’t pay the decree or summary warrant, 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 needed to do your job, or a car 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

Can I stop diligence?

If you have a summary warrant for council tax, or a decree, in most cases you can apply to the court for a ‘time to pay order’.

If this is agreed, further diligence action will be stopped and a regular payment amount will be set. As long as you keep up with these payments.

You can’t apply for a time to pay order if :

  • The court has previously agreed a ‘time to pay direction’, allowing you to pay by instalments, but you’ve not kept up with the payments
  • You have a decree debt of more than £25,000
  • You have a summary warrant for a tax debt

If you want to apply for a time to pay order, contact the court for an application form.

Free help and support

If you’ve received any court paperwork or a charge for payment, or if you think diligence has started, you need to call us (free from all landlines and mobiles). We’ll be able to give you the expert advice you need to get your situation back on track.