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Can you be jailed for debt in Scotland?

Sharon McDougall - Updated - 3rd May 2024 - 3 minutes to read

When you’re in serious debt and can’t see a way out, it’s important to know your rights and how the situation may affect you. Creditors can sometimes use threats, intimidation, and extreme pressure to force people to pay, but there are also strict guidelines laid out that protect debtors.

In Scotland, a range of debt enforcement measures are available to creditors depending on the circumstances, but if you’re experiencing genuine financial difficulty rather than deliberately avoiding payment, it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive a jail sentence for non-payment of debt.

What happens when you're faced with court action in Scotland?

If you’ve been unable to pay your debts, your creditor(s) will send you a default notice. If you fail to pay they may decide to take court action, in which case you’ll receive a writ/decision from the sheriff court.

The court can authorise repayment of debt by various ‘diligence’ measures, including but not limited to:

The debt enforcement regime operating in Scotland means creditors have access to a number of options when trying to recoup their money. But there remain some instances when you can be jailed for debt in Scotland, so in what circumstances can this still happen?

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When can you be jailed for debt in Scotland?

The Debtors (Scotland) Act, 1880, effectively abolished the imprisonment of Scottish people for debt, apart from in a few specific instances. These include a deliberate failure to pay:

  • Court fines
  • Criminal fines of £500 or over
  • Child maintenance and financial support payments for a former spouse
  • TV license fees

It must be said that a prison sentence is only handed down to people in debt in rare and exceptional circumstances, and when all other forms of debt enforcement have been exhausted by the authorities and court system.

The court needs to know that you could pay, but are deliberately not doing so.. In most cases people simply aren’t able to pay, and this is a situation where a formal debt procedure may be appropriate.

They protect you from having to deal with creditors, can freeze additional interest and charges being applied to your debts, and in some cases you can write off a proportion of the total amount owed.

Official debt procedures in Scotland

If you’re worried about being jailed for your debts, by entering a formal debt process in Scotland you can regain control of your financial circumstances and get back on track. The government backed Debt Arrangement Scheme (DAS) allows you to repay your debts in full, without the burdens of creditor pressure and extra interest/fees being applied.

Two other potential options for Scottish residents in serious debt are the Scottish Trust Deed and sequestration. Although using official debt remedies such as these may appear to be drastic, both of these procedures involve writing off some or all of your debts so you can become debt-free.

If you’re worried about being jailed for debt in Scotland, you can obtain more information and independent advice by contacting our team of licensed insolvency practitioners (IPs). Scotland Debt Solutions are insolvency specialists and can offer you a free same-day consultation to quickly establish your best options.

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Sharon McDougall


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