Debt cases made up 45% of all civil court cases initiated in 2015-16
The number of debt cases has nearly halved since 2008-09
Nearly three-quarters of debt cases initiated in 2015-16 were small claims
Over 90% of disposed debt cases in 2015-16 were undefended
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 second 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 significant avenue for people seeking assistance with debt issues relative to 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, all sheriff court procedures (small claims, summary cause, ordinary cause and commercial) can be used. For the period covered by these statistics, debt cases were raised in the sheriff courts if their value was up to £5,000 and in either the sheriff courts or the Court of Session if their value was £5,000 or over before 22 September 2015. 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.
Scottish Crime and Justice Survey
3% of respondents to the 2014-15 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey reported having money and debt problems. Owner-occupiers had the lowest prevalence of money and debt issues (2%), in contrast to social tenants (6%) and private tenants (4%). Those living in one of the top 15% most deprived areas were also more likely to report an issue related to money and debt (5%) than the rest (3%), as did victims of crime (7%) compared to non-victims (2%).
There were 34,919 debt cases initiated across the sheriff courts and Court of Session in 2015-16 ( Table 11). This was 3% more than the number of cases initiated in 2014-15 and 47% lower than in 2008-09 ( Figure 10). 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.
Nearly three quarters (73%) of debt cases initiated in 2015-16 were small claims. Ordinary procedure and summary cause 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 (8 cases in 2015-16).
Across all debt case types, 91% of disposed cases were undefended ( Table 12). The majority of debt cases (63%) were disposed of in favour of the pursuer.
Figure 10: Overall decrease of debt cases from 2008-09 in the civil courts
Email: Jeremy Darot