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Five top tips for dealing with Sheriff Officers
Over the next few weeks, thousands of Scots will begin receiving Summary Warrants through their letter boxes. These are types of court orders that are used for council tax arrears, but can also be used for HMRC debts. They are not just ordinary debt collection letters and should never be ignored.
When a Summary Warrant is issued, the next stage is the debt is passed to Sheriff Officers who use it to execute diligence, which is a legal term that is used to describe legal enforcement procedures that are used to recover debt.
What can Sheriff Officers do?
Once those 14 days have passed, they can then:
- Arrest your wages;
- Freeze your bank account;
- Attach your car; or
- The Creditor can make an application to the court for your Bankruptcy.
What should you do if you are contacted by a Sheriff Officer?
Know who you are dealing with
The first thing you should do when contacted by a Sheriff Officer is confirm what capacity they are working in. The reason for this is many Sheriff Officer Firms also act as debt collectors and although it may seem like the role is the same, it is not.
Debt collectors don’t have the same legal powers Sheriff Officers have and can just ask you to pay the debt. Sheriff Officers, however, can take the type of action listed above.
Although you shouldn’t ignore a debt that is being collected by a debt collector, it does mean you cannot be threatened with the same type of action that a Sheriff Officer can threaten you with.
Make sure you are paying your current bills
It is an easy mistake to make, but sometimes people offer to pay too much because they are worried about what Sheriff Officers can do, and as a result fall behind with other bills.
This is a particular problem with Council Tax debts. People often offer too much and cannot pay their current Council Tax. A Summary Warrant then gets issued for that year’s Council Tax, with a 10% surcharge and then gets passed to the Sheriff Officers for recovery. People get caught in a vicious cycle of not paying their current year’s Council Tax and only paying towards their arrears.
Any offer made to a Sheriff Officer should be based on an Income and Expenditure and what you can afford.
Don’t Feel Threatened
If you are contacted by Sheriff Officers and don’t know what to do, or don’t know how much you can afford to offer, or if the Sheriff Officers refuses your offer, ask them for breathing space so you can seek advice.
If they refuse to allow this, telephone a Carrington Dean Adviser on 0808 2085 195 and we can advise you on whether you should use the Statutory Moratorium Procedure.
This is a legal process in Scotland, which gives you six weeks protection from Sheriff Officers, so you can seek advice. This means during that period no-one can arrest your wages, freeze your bank account or attach your car. Also no-one can raise an application for your bankruptcy.
Don’t Allow them Access to your Home
Sheriff Officers have no legal power to enter your home unless they have what is known as an Exceptional Attachment Order (which is relatively rare). You, therefore, should never invite them in.
As they are Court Officers, Sheriff Officers will never try to enter your home unless they have the correct paperwork from the Court. However, if you invite them in, this gives them the opportunity to see what is in your home. The Sheriff Officers can then give evidence to the Court as to what they saw in your home and what they could take. This may persuade the Court to grant them entry.
Always Seek Advice
It is easy to think there is nothing you can do. So if Sheriff Officers arrest your wages, freeze your bank account or attaches your car, you just accept it.
You should never do this. There are lots of things you can do. Bank arrestments can be challenged, attachments can be lifted; and wage arrestments can be recalled using Bankruptcy, Protected Trust Deeds and the Debt Arrangement Scheme.
It is, therefore, never too late to seek advice, although the sooner you do so, the more options you will have.
If you have received a Summary Warrant, or a Charge for Payment or have been contacted by Sheriff Officers, contact Carrington Dean and speak with a Money Adviser on 0808 2085 195