What is a sheriff officer?
Dealing with debt can be difficult enough in itself, but when you start getting contacted by sheriff officers it can make the process a whole lot harder.
Sheriff officers are essentially the Scottish version of a bailiff, except their powers aren’t exactly the same. They are usually called in to serve court orders on behalf of councils, companies or people you owe money to.
Although they work for the court, they have limited powers and cannot do all the same things as bailiffs or the police. However, they can still enter your home and take your things if they have the right paperwork and permission from the court.
What powers do sheriff officers have?
The main worry people have when it comes to sheriff officers is whether or not they can force their way into their home.
This is possible, but is actually very rare and can only happen when the officers have exact permission from the court. Sheriffs need an ‘Exceptional Attachment Order’ to be able to enter your home and this can only be given once the original lender has sent you a ‘charge for payment’.
Another power that sheriff officers have to try and recover money you owe is the ability to arrest your wages or bank account. This is when payments are taken directly from you before you even see the money.
On top of visiting you, they are also able to call you and write to you frequently looking for payment.
What happens if I don’t let sheriff officers in?
As we said in the last section, sheriff officers do not have the right to come into your home unless they have permission from the court. They have to show you this before they even step foot through your doorway.
If they don’t have the right paperwork, then you are within your rights to refuse to let them in. They also cannot try to get in if there isn’t someone over the age of 16 in the house at the time of their visit.
What can sheriff officers take?
In some cases, the court will send the officers with the intent of taking things you own to be sold for money to pay back your debt. This is where the exceptional attachment order comes into play
You have to be told beforehand if this is going to happen, and they can only take things that are thought of as non-essential – in other words, things that are thought of as luxury items.
This means they can’t take things like your bed, computer, clothes or any kitchen appliances.
It’s important to note that they cannot force their way in if no one is home. They also cannot take anything if the person present is under 16, speak or understand English or is unable to understand what’s happening due to disability.
What time can sheriff officers come?
Sheriff officers can’t just come to your door when they like. There are rules in place that restrict them to working between 8am-8pm and stops them from visiting you on Sundays or bank holidays.
Although it’s generally common practice that they will write to you to tell you they’re coming, this is not a requirement.
How to deal with sheriff officers
The first thing to do if an officer appears at your door is to ask them to show you their ID and whatever paperwork they have. This will allow you to see proof of who they are, why they are at your door and what they have permission to do.
When it comes to their ID, they should be carrying a red book that has their photograph and the Scottish court service crest inside. This should be signed by both the sheriff officer and the sheriff clerk for your area.
In some cases, the paperwork they have might not make it easy to know if they have permission to come in or not. The phrase you want to look for on the document is “grants warrant for all lawful execution.”, which means that the court has said they’re allowed to enter your home.
If it becomes clear that everything they’re telling you is legit, then we advise not to stop them. If you refuse them entry when they have court permission, you could get up being charged for breach of the peace.
However, it’s important to remember that they are under strict rules from their regulators and can only work as far as the paperwork they hold says so. Otherwise you do not have to let them in and can deal with them on your doorstep.
What should I do if a sheriff officer has treated me unfairly?
If you’re visited by a sheriff officer, and you feel they haven’t acted in the way they should, then you should contact them immediately. Explain to them what’s happened and ask for them to investigate why the officer behaved in such a way.
Once you have done this, then you should contact the Sheriff Principal and make a complaint to them. They will investigate this for you and take the necessary action to fix the issue.
How can I avoid sheriff officers?
There are things you can do to stop sheriff officers being called in for money owed. By making arrangements as soon as possible, you can avoid the debt reaching this stage come to some form of agreement with them.
It’s important to make sure that whatever agreement you make benefits both you and the lender you’re in debt to. Sheriff officers understand the position you are in and can often give you advice and options to help you deal with the problem at hand.
If you’re visited or contacted by an officer, you can also make an arrangement with them directly. You can do this either when they’re on your doorstep or you can contact them once they have notified you of action.
Want to know where you stand with your money? Diagnose your debts with TAD today to find out where you’re at along with tips and advice for your money management.