Sheriff court claims - money or property

Sheriff court and credit debts

If you fall behind on payments to a creditor and cannot reach an agreement to pay the debt back, they may make a claim through the sheriff court to get a decree against you.


not able to pay

It is not a criminal offence to have a decree and you cannot be sent to prison for not being able to pay it.

Non-priority creditors use the sheriff court. The following are some of the most common non-priority debts.
  • Credit cards
  • Store cards
  • Unsecured loans
  • Charge cards
  • Catalogues
  • Payday loans
  • Doorstep-collected loans.


who makes the final decision?

The court makes the final decision about whether you get time to pay the debt at a rate you can afford, not the creditor.

When sheriff-court action is taken against you, you will get court forms which you should reply to and say what you can afford to pay. The sheriff court should consider your circumstances and your income and outgoings before making a decision about whether they give you time to pay. If your offer is small and it will take you a long time to pay the decree back, the court may not give you time to pay.


Further action creditors can take

If the court does not grant you time to pay your decree, or if you miss more than two payments after being granted time to pay, the creditor can take further action (diligence) against you. Diligence could include:
  • taking regular deductions from your wages if you are working, called an ‘earnings arrestment’;
  • freezing money in your bank account, called a ‘bank arrestment’; or
  • using sheriff officers to try to arrange the seizure and sale of some of your belongings (called an 'attachment'). 

Sheriff court action and housing debt

Sometimes, sheriff-court  or tribunal procedures can be used by priority creditors.
  • If you own your own home, your mortgage or secured loan lender could make a claim in the sheriff court to repossess your property if you fall behind with payments on your mortgage or secured loan.
  • If you rent your home, your landlord could take legal action to end your tenancy if you fall behind with rent payments.

Mortgage arrears guide

For more information about how to deal with mortgage arrears, see our detailed Mortgage arrears guide.

This guide gives you information and advice if you are behind on your mortgage. It explains your options and the processes your lender must follow.

Use this guide to:

  • find out if there is any help you can get;
  • work out which option is right for you;
  • help you negotiate with your lender; and
  • get advice about how to deal with court action.

This guide also includes some useful contacts and links for you to get further help.

Rent arrears fact sheets


For more information about how to deal with rent arrears, see our detailed rent arrears fact sheet for social housing tenants or for private tenants.

These fact sheets will give you practical information and advice if you are behind on your rent. They will explain your options, and the processes your landlord must follow.

Use these fact sheets to:

  • work out what kind of tenancy you have;
  • find out if there is any help you can get with your rent;
  • help you negotiate with your landlord; and
  • get advice about dealing with court or tribunal action.

These fact sheets also include some useful contacts and links for you to get further help.


Sheriff court action and hire-purchase or conditional-sale debt

See our fact sheet: 

Hire purchase and conditional sale.

If you fall behind with payments on a hire-purchase or conditional sale agreement, the lender could make a sheriff-court claim to repossess the goods.


Sheriff court action and taxes

If you fall behind with your council tax payments, your local council can apply to the sheriff court for a summary warrant. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) can also do this if you have arrears of income tax, VAT or national insurance contributions. A summary warrant is a court order that allows the council or HMRC to take further action (diligence) against you to recover what you owe.

See our fact sheet: 

Council tax recovery.

See our fact sheet:

Sheriff court action for debt.


Sheriff court action and your credit reference file

A decree will be recorded on your credit reference file for six years. This will make it more difficult and expensive to get further credit.


Fact sheets for further help

We have a range of fact sheets that give more information about sheriff-court action.

Fact sheet library