Time to pay directions

If you are being taken to court over money you owe, you may be able to apply for a time to pay direction, which will give you time to pay off the debt. Talk to a housing adviser or a solicitor first as a time to pay direction may not be the best option in your situation.

What is a time to pay direction?

If you owe money to a creditor they can go to court to get a decree to prove that the debt exists. If the sheriff grants a decree, the creditor can then take further steps to recover the money. A time to pay direction is a court order that you can apply for before decree is granted. It gives you time to pay off the debt in instalments or in a lump sum at a later date, and prevents the creditor from taking any further action against you.

You can't apply for a time to pay direction if the debt is:

  • over £25,000
  • for council tax arrears
  • for maintenance.

How do I know if I'm being taken to court?

You will be sent a summons (for debts of less than £5,000) or an initial writ (for debts of more than £5,000) to let you know:

  • when your case is due at court
  • how much money the creditor claims you owe.

What action can a creditor take?

Once the court has granted a decree, if you don't have a time to pay direction, the creditor can attempt to recover the debt by:

  • arresting your bank or building society accounts (freezing your accounts so you can't withdraw any money)
  • arresting your earnings (arranging with your employer for payments to be made directly from your wages, before you are paid)
  • getting an attachment order (seizing and selling personal belongings located outside your home, such as your car)
  • getting an exceptional attachment order (seizing and selling non-essential goods from inside your home, such as electrical equipment)
  • making you bankrupt.

You can find out more about bankruptcy and the actions creditors can take at the National Debtline website.

Should I apply for a time to pay direction?

In order to apply for a time to pay direction, you have to admit that you owe the debt. Therefore you may not want to apply if:

  • you don't agree with the amount stated on the summons or writ (for example, because you have been withholding rent due to disrepair or because you think the debt has been calculated incorrectly)
  • the debt has arisen due to problems with benefits
  • your landlord has also applied for a court order to evict you - in this case, admitting to the debt may leave you with no defence against the eviction.

Instalments or lump sum

You can choose to apply to pay the money back in instalments, or in a deferred lump sum.

  • Instalments - you can apply to pay in weekly, fortnightly and monthly instalments. Talk to a debt adviser if you're not sure how much to offer.
  • Lump sum - only offer to pay off the debt in a lump sum if you know you'll definitely have the money to do so.

Applying for a time to pay direction

You apply for a time to pay direction when you reply to the summons or initial writ.

The summons will contain a reply section that you need to complete and send back to the sheriff clerk at the court. The application for a time order is on page seven. You can see a copy of a summons.

You will need to:

  • admit the claim
  • state whether you wish to pay the debt back in instalments or in a lump sum
  • if you wish to pay in instalments, state how much you can pay and whether you will pay weekly, fortnightly and monthly
  • if you wish to pay with a lump sum, state when you will be able to pay it.

You'll also need to give details of your financial and personal situation, including:

  • your income (wages, benefits, etc)
  • any savings or investments you have
  • your expenditure (rent or mortgage, council tax, household bills, etc)
  • any other debts
  • how many dependent children or family members you have.

There isn't much room on the form for this, so you may need to include a separate sheet. This will allow you to explain your situation in greater detail.

You must return the summons to the sheriff clerk before the return date written on the form. Send a copy to the landlord or creditor as well, so they understand your financial situation and the offer you are making them.

What if I don't reply to the summons?

If you don't reply to the summons, your case will go to court. Even if the sheriff grants decree, you may still be able to work out a payment plan with your creditor - speak to an adviser at the National Debtline or a money advice centre if you're in this situation. They may be able to help you come to an arrangement with the creditor.

What if I've been sent an initial writ?

If you've been sent an initial writ, you'll need the help of a solicitor. You can find a solicitor at the Law Society of Scotland website. Your local Citizens Advice may also have a list of solicitors who can help you.

What happens after I've applied?

If the landlord or creditor accepts your payment plan, you won't have to go to court. You'll need to start paying off the debt as arranged in the time to pay direction.

If the creditor doesn't agree to your offer, your case will go to court and the sheriff will decide whether to grant decree or whether to grant you a time to pay direction.

Going to court

If your case calls at court, you should go along to put your case to the sheriff. You can also ask a representative, such as an adviser or solicitor, to go in your place. You can find out more about going to court here.

The sheriff grants a time to pay direction

If the sheriff grants decree and gives you a time to pay direction, your landlord or creditor can't take any further steps to recover the debt as long as you keep to the terms of the order. However, if you miss two payments, on the date the third is due, the time to pay direction will no longer apply, and the creditor can take further action without going back to court.

The sheriff doesn't grant a time to pay direction

If the sheriff grants decree but doesn't give you a time to pay direction, the creditor can take steps to enforce the decree, to make you pay back the money you owe.

It's still worthwhile trying to arrange to pay off the debt with the creditor, to stop them taking further steps such as arresting your wages. Talk to an adviser at the National Debtline on 0808 808 4000 or the Consumer Credit Counselling Service Scottish Debtline on 0800 138 3328 or go and see a debt adviser at a money advice centre immediately if you're in this position. An adviser may be able to negotiate with the creditor on your behalf.

The important points

  • A time to pay direction is a court order that gives you time to pay the debt and prevents the creditor taking any further action.
  • You must apply for a time to pay order before a decree is granted to the creditor.
  • You can't apply for a time to pay direction if your debt is over £25,000, for council tax arrears or for maintenance.
  • There are circumstances when applying for a time to pay direction is not the best action, for example if you disagree with the amount your landlord says you owe, as a time to pay direction means you need to admit you owe that amount.

Speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser

Call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline

0808 800 4444
9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Email an adviser

You can also email a housing adviser. We aim to respond within three working days.

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