Debt Collection in Switzerland

Learn about Switzerland’s unique debt collection process, its cantonal Debt Collection Office (Betreibungsamt / Office des Poursuites) system, how to collect a debt owed to you and what to do if a Debt Collection Order is filed against you...

The Swiss legal system provides a framework for creditors to collect what is owed to them. In Switzerland, debts are pursued through a Debt Collection Office (Betreibungsamt / Office des Poursuites, DCO). There is a DCO in every canton, and they are part of Switzerland’s national administration. Debt collection proceedings (Betreibungsverfahren / Procédure de Poursuite) are initiated at the DCO in the debtor’s canton, and can apply to both individuals and companies.

The DCO follows a standard process that begins when one party submits a Debt Collection Request (Betreibungsbegehren / Réquisition de Poursuite) to the DCO. If the claim is not contested or if the debtor’s objection is dismissed by a judge, the DCO may then attempt to recover the debt. As it is easy to initiate debt collection proceedings, it is advised that recipients of a Debt Collection Request do not accept it unless they are genuinely in debt to the relevant creditor.

Unsettled debts are a matter of public record and are held on the canton’s Register of Debts (Betribungsregister / Registre des Poursuites, RoD). Information on outstanding debts can be read on a canton’s RoD by third parties for five years, as long as they provide adequate justification for their interest. Outstanding debts and unresolved debt claims remain on the RoD until the record is removed.

When applying for a loan, job, apartment, or anything else, a Debt Statement (Betriebungsauszuges / Extrait du registre des poursuites) may be requested. This document is a certificate describing outstanding debts and unresolved encounters with the DCO in the relevant canton.

The Debt Collection Process

The exact process of debt recovery will depend on the canton, the nature of the debt, whether it is contested and how it can be recovered. If the debt is contested, the process will include legal action. An outline of the procedure is below:

  • The creditor submits a Debt Collection Request form to the DCO in the debtor’s place of residence. The fee for this service depends on the size of the debt
  • The DCO issues the debtor with a Demand for Payment (Zahlungsbefehl / Commandement de Payer)
  • If the debtor wishes to contest the Demand for Payment, they can send an Objection Notice (Rechtsvorschlag / Opposition du Débiteur) to the DCO within ten days of receiving it. If the creditor obtain can a court order which states that the debtor owes the debt (a Rechtsöffnung / Mainlevée de l'Opposition), the Objection Notice will be dismissed
  • If the debtor does not contest the Demand for Payment within ten days, they have technically agreed to pay the debt along with the DCO’s administration fee. If they cannot pay the debt, the creditor may submit a Request for Continuation (Fortsetzungsbegehren / Réquisition de Continuation de la Poursuite) to the DCO, and the DCO will begin to collect the debt

Asset Seizure, Bankruptcy and Debt Restructuring

If a court has established that the debt must be paid and a Request for Continuation has been completed by the creditor, the DCO will collect the debt. The debtor can pay the original debt and any other sums resulting from the process at the DCO office. If this is not possible, the DCO can, with a court order, begin bankruptcy proceedings or seize assets equivalent to the value of the debt. If property, such as a house, is held against the debt, the DCO may also seize it.

Debts can also be settled between individuals without bankruptcy or asset seizure if the two parties can reach an out-of-court settlement. In these cases, debt restructuring agreements can be used to schedule part-payments.

In certain circumstances, it is possible for the DCO or a private debt collection agency to seize assets before a court judgement is made.

Exceptional Circumstances

For compassionate reasons, debt collection activities can be postponed during a family death or serious illness.

At certain times, debt collection proceedings cannot be brought against individuals of companies. This includes July 15 to July 31, and seven days before and after Christmas and Easter. Debt Collection Requests can still be filed in this period.

Further Information