If you owe money to someone, this person (the creditor) can file a debt enforcement request at a debt enforcement office and enlist the help of the state in claiming the outstanding amount from you. Your name will be entered in the debt enforcement register.
Normally, you will first receive a reminder for any outstanding bill. However, the creditor is not legally obliged to send you a reminder.
Receiving a summons for payment
If someone has started debt enforcement proceedings against you, you will receive a summons for payment from the debt enforcement office. The post office or the debt enforcement office will deliver the summons for payment to you personally.
Paying a debt
If the claim set out in the summons for payment is valid and you actually owe the money, you have 20 days to pay. If it is going to be difficult for you to pay, it is worth seeking advice and speaking to the creditor. If necessary, you can enter into a formal agreement (e.g. to pay by instalments).
Filing an objection – Contesting the debt
If you do not agree with the claim and believe that you do not owe the amount claimed, you should object to the debt enforcement action. You can do this orally or in writing either when the summons for payment is delivered or by going to the debt enforcement office within 10 days of receiving the summons.
By filing an objection, you are potentially proposing that the matter be settled by court proceedings. You are telling the creditor that you do not recognise the debt and that the creditor must apply to court if they wish to continue enforcing the debt.
After the objection is filed, a court therefore decides, at the creditor's request, whether the debt enforcement process should continue. The creditor must show that their claim is justified. If they succeed in doing so, the court sets the objection aside and the creditor can continue to enforce the debt.
If you do not file an objection after receiving the summons for payment or if your objection has been set aside by the court (see above), the creditor may continue the debt enforcement proceedings. The debt enforcement office can order your assets and income to be distrained to pay the creditor's claims. Distraint is a procedure in which the authorities can instruct your employer to transfer the distrainable portion of your future salary directly to the debt enforcement office. They can also seize valuables that you own so that they can be auctioned off.
Getting information and advice about the debt enforcement procedure
You can obtain information and support at the cantonal debt counselling services (web page available in German and French) if you are in debt or in other financial difficulties. Your local debt enforcement office can also answer your questions about the debt enforcement procedure .
If someone owes you money, it is customary, but not obligatory, to send the debtor a reminder first. If this is not successful, you can begin debt enforcement proceedings.
Starting debt enforcement proceedings
If you want to enforce a debt against someone, you must submit a debt enforcement request to the debt enforcement office at the debtor's place of residence. You can fill out the debt enforcement request electronically at the online debt enforcement counter and obtain information on how to proceed.
Continuing the debt enforcement process
If your claim is justified and the debtor has not paid up despite the summons for payment, you can go ahead with the process of enforcing the debt. At the online debt enforcement counter, you can fill in the request to continue the proceedings electronically and obtain information on how to proceed.
As the creditor, you must pay the costs of the various stages in the debt enforcement process in advance. If your claim proves to be justified, the debtor will be ordered to reimburse the costs later. The debt enforcement costs are the same throughout Switzerland, but they vary according to the amount of the debt claimed.
The money and the time spent on enforcing a debt is not always worth it, especially when it is clear from the outset that the debtor will not be able to pay. You can obtain an indication of whether the debtor will be able to pay by requesting an extract from the debt enforcement register.
Association of Debt Enforcement and Bankruptcy Officers: Debt enforcement offices by canton and Information on the procedure (not in English)
Debt enforcement counter online (not in English)