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What Is a Summary Warrant?
Summary Warrants are the equivalent of a court order but are only issued for certain types of debt, like Council Tax, Income Tax, and Non-domestic business rates.
Unlike other court orders when a Creditor applies for a Summary Warrant against you, you don’t get an opportunity to defend the action in front of a Sheriff Court judge, it just gets awarded in your absence.
Like other court orders, Summary Warrants can also be used to instruct a Sheriff Officer to:
- Execute a Charge for Payment;
- Attach items kept outside your home, such as a car;
- Arrest your bank account; or
- Freeze your wages
Also like other court orders, once a Charge for Payment has been served, they can also be used to petition for your bankruptcy.
Who can use Summary Warrants?
Summary Warrants are primarily used by local authorities, but can also be used by other creditors such as HMRC. In 2017-18, for example over 197,000 Charge for Payments were served on Council Tax payers after a Summary Warrant was served, with other creditors only using them to serve a Charge for Payment in approximately 8,000 cases.
Where Local Authorities want to serve a Summary Warrant for non-payment of Council Tax, there is a procedure they must use.
This begins when someone misses their first Council Tax payment. They receive a 7-day reminder. This informs them if they fail to make the payment, they will lose their right to pay by instalments. It will also inform them that they will become liable for the full year’s council tax bill.
If they fail to make the payment, they then receive a follow-up letter which is a Final Demand. This gives them 14 days to pay the full year’s Council Tax. If they fail to make this payment, then the Summary Warrant is applied for and issued.
What happens once a Summary Warrant is issued?
Ten percent of the debt is then added to the total amount the Summary Warrant is issued for. This is instead of judicial interest, which is 8% and is added annually.
Once the Summary Warrant is issued, the creditor can then use it to instruct Sheriff Officers, who are officers of the Court, to implement the court order.
They can do this in a number of ways, but when it comes to Summary Warrants, the first step they must take is to serve a formal Charge for Payment. This is hand delivered by the Sheriff Officers but does not need to be handed to you. It can also be posted through your letterbox.
It gives you 14 days to pay the debt in full. If after 14 days you have not paid the debt, a number of things can then happen.
What else can be done with a Summary Warrant?
The first of these is the Sheriff Officer can arrest your wages, freeze your bank account or attach items held outside your home, such as cars.
They cannot come into your home, or seize any items kept inside your home. To do this there is an additional procedure they need to use that is called an Exceptional Attachment Order. These types of orders are very rare and require a further court hearing, during which you are allowed to attend and argue why they should not be granted.
Another thing that happens when a Charge for Payment expires is you become apparently insolvent. This allows the creditor to then petition for your bankruptcy (or as it is known in Scotland, your sequestration), but only where the total debt you owe is £3,000 or more. If the total debt the Summary Warrant is issued for is less than £3,000, they can use other year’s council tax, but only if Summary Warrants have been issued for those years also.
What can lenders not use Summary Warrants for?
Unlike other court orders, Summary Warrants cannot be used to execute what are called land diligences. These are enforcement procedures, such as inhibitions, which prevent you from selling your home, where you are a homeowner.
This is not to say Summary Warrants cannot be used to place your home at risk for unpaid Council Tax, but to do this the lender must make you bankrupt.
What can you do if you have been issued with a Summary Warrant?
There are a number of options open to you if you receive a Summary Warrant, or indeed if a Charge for Payment is served against you.
You could apply for a Statutory Moratorium, which gives you 6-week protection from Sheriff Officers and allows you to consider all your options for dealing with your debts, which may include applying for a Debt Payment Programme under the Debt Arrangement Scheme. Or if it is appropriate, you may even grant a Protected Trust Deed or apply for your own bankruptcy.
What is important is you realise that a Summary Warrant is not just another demand for payment, but a legal document that is the equivalent of a court order and can be used to take further legal action against you.
In light of this, the correct response to receiving a Summary Warrant is to seek advice.
If you have received a Summary Warrant and are worried about Sheriff Officers, contact a Carrington Dean Money Adviser on 0808 2085 195 for free, confidential debt advice.