The aim of a payment action is to recover monies due.
Obtaining a positive judgment from the court is just the
first step in that process. The party with the benefit of
the judgment still needs to enforce the order if payment
is not made. This guide describes what enforcement
means in practice and the approach to enforcement
To enforce a court decree in Scotland, creditors need to
do the following:
- For judgments issued by Scottish courts, serve a
Charge for Payment on the debtor. This is a formal
demand for payment served by a sheriff officer
(a Scottish bailiff). It is a pre-requisite of most
enforcement methods and provides the debtor with
14 days to pay the debt. If payment is not made within
the 14 day period then the creditor can enforce the
decree using one of the methods below.
- For judgments issued outside Scotland, register the
judgment in Scotland before serving the Charge:
- For judgments issued elsewhere in the UK the
creditor must obtain a certificate of money
provisions from the court issuing the judgment and
register it in the Books of Council and Session in
Edinburgh. This takes 2 or 3 weeks.
- For EU judgments and judgments of countries
with whom the UK has a treaty arrangement the
creditor must “petition” the Court of Session
for registration of the judgment. This procedure
usually takes 6 to 10 weeks, although an accelerated
procedure is available for uncontested EU
judgments. Although the result of the UK’s EU
Referendum has no immediate effect on these
procedures, the process applicable to EU judgments
after the UK exits the EU is currently uncertain.
- For judgments issued in countries with whom the
UK has no reciprocal arrangement, a fresh court action must be commenced in Scotland seeking
payment based on the foreign judgment. This
procedure usually takes an additional 8 to 12 weeks
but can take much longer where the action is
challenged by the debtor.
- Find out about the debtor’s assets. Enforcement costs
money and this will be wasted if the debtor has no
assets to pay. Information about the debtor’s assets
also helps determine the best enforcement method to
use. Usually sheriff officers will report on the assets
owned by the debtor at the address where the Charge
for Payment is served. Information can also be obtained
in other ways, such as by a search at the Registers of
Scotland to establish the ownership of any property at
any known address of the debtor or by instructing an
enquiry agent to make enquiries.
There are a number of enforcement methods in Scotland.
- Attachment: This procedure enables a creditor
to inventorise and subsequently seize and sell items
of property owned by and in the possession of the
debtor. It cannot be used against some items such
as vehicles (valued at £3,000 or less) or items held
within a debtor’s home unless a further court order is
obtained. Successful enforcement by this method can
be quick (within approximately 4 – 6 weeks) provided
the debtor has goods of sufficient value. It is most
useful where the debtor runs a well-stocked business.
- Money Attachment: This method allows a creditor
to seize cash, postal orders and cheques held
within a debtor’s business premises and cash them
in, in settlement of the judgment. From seizure to
payment the process takes about 4 to 6 weeks. It is a
particularly useful method of enforcement where the
debtor operates a cash business such as a pub, shop or
entertainment venue, though often the sums obtained
- Arrestment: This method enables a creditor to
freeze monies in a debtor’s bank account or which
are due to a debtor and held by third parties. Monies
“caught” by an arrestment are released to the creditor
after 14 weeks if the court judgment isn’t satisfied.
Arrestments are often speculative and the outcome
isn’t known in advance. However it is a cheap method
of enforcement and can be useful where the debtor’s
bank details are known or where the creditor knows
that the debtor is due to receive a payment from a
third party. A Charge for Payment is not required before
serving an arrestment.
- Inhibition: An inhibition is a court order which
prevents a debtor from disposing of land or business
premises they own without agreeing to pay off the debt
from the sale proceeds. The order lasts for five years
but can be renewed. This method does not immediately
realise funds, but can be a useful where the debtor
owns property and a land transaction is pending.
The debtor would then have to settle the judgment
from equity in the property to enable the transaction
to proceed. No Charge for Payment is required prior to
- Earnings Arrestment: This process enables a
creditor to instruct a debtor’s employer to make
deductions from the debtor’s earnings and remit them
to the creditor until the judgment is paid off. The
level of deduction is fixed by the Debtors (Scotland)
Act 1987. The procedure is inexpensive and simple but
is only available against employed individuals. It can
also take a long time to recover a large sum using
- Insolvency: Creditors can also apply to wind up a
debtor company (if the debt is more than £750) or
sequestrate an individual debtor (if the debt is more
than £3,000). If a winding-up or sequestration order
is obtained, the debtor’s assets will be gathered in and
distributed by a liquidator or trustee in accordance
with insolvency law. This is a costly and lengthy process
and recovery is not guaranteed, but the threat of
insolvency can sometimes lead to payment being made.
Tips on enforcement
- Find out whether the debtor has funds or
assets to satisfy the court decree before taking
- Move quickly to avoid assets being dissipated,
although remember most enforcement methods
require a Charge for Payment to be served
first. Where the judgment has been issued by
a court outside Scotland allow extra time for
the registration process.
- Choose the enforcement method with care.
The most appropriate method will depend on the
assets which are available to meet the judgment.
- If the debtor has various assets consider using a
combination of methods to enforce the judgment.
- Remember the threat of insolvency can be
successful if other enforcement methods have
- Taking enforcement action doesn’t always
guarantee recovery. Weigh up the costs of
enforcement (such as solicitors fees, sheriff
officer’s fees, court fees etc.) and the risk that
these costs may not be recovered before taking
For further information please contact the authors.