Debt cases made up 42% of all civil court cases initiated in 2016-17
The number of debt cases has more than halved since 2008-09
Nearly 60% of debt cases initiated in 2016-17 were small claims
Debt actions in Scotland
Money owed to an individual or organisation is known as a debt and can include council tax, business taxes, hire purchase agreements, utility bills, bank overdrafts and loans. Where there is a dispute over a debt and a creditor wishes to enforce their right for payment for goods sold, services provided or money lent they can raise a debt case in court. There are multiple routes to debt management and resolution of debt issues, of which raising a case in court is just one. The Scottish Legal Aid Board has reported on the availability and accessibility of legal services in relation to debt in their fifth monitoring report, and found that:
"Other routes to debt management or resolution of the debt issue, not involving court, are increasing in importance. Debt management companies and the not-for-profit sector appear therefore to be an increasingly important avenue for people seeking assistance with debt issues than solicitors."
In a debt court case, the person raising the action must prove that a debt exists. As debt cases can be for any monetary value and involve disputes between individuals and organisations, any of the sheriff court procedures (small claims, summary cause, simple procedure, ordinary cause and commercial) can be used. However, since the introduction of the first phase of simple procedure in November 2016, all small claims and straightforward summary cases are dealt with under simple procedure. Following the introduction of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, cases initiated from 22 September 2015 were raised in the sheriff court if the value was up to £100,000 and in the Court of Session if over £100,000. Prior to this Act, debt cases were raised in the sheriff courts if the value was up to £5,000 and in either the sheriff courts or the Court of Session if the value was £5,000 or over.
Scottish Crime and Justice Survey
An estimated 4% of adults to the 2016-17 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey reported having money and debt problems. Owner-occupiers had the lowest prevalence of money and debt issues (2%), in comparison to social tenants (6%) and private tenants (9%).
There were 30,567 debt cases initiated across the sheriff courts and Court of Session in 2016-17 (Table 11). This was 12% lower than the number of cases initiated in 2015-16 and is 54% lower than in 2008-09 (Figure 9). There are multiple routes for resolving disputes over debt and it is possible that non-court options are becoming increasingly favoured by those pursuing debts as suggested by the Scottish Legal Aid Board monitoring report.
Nearly 60% of debt cases initiated in 2016-17 were small claims. Ordinary procedure and simple procedure cases made up most of the rest of the cases and ordinary cause - commercial procedure cases accounted for only 1%. Only a small number of debt cases are raised in the Court of Session (6 cases in 2016-17).
The majority of debt cases (63%) were disposed of in favour of the pursuer (Table 12).
Figure 9: Overall decrease of debt cases from 2008-09 in the civil courts