Sheriff officers Scotland – Help and advice


Sheriff officers Scotland – Help and advice

What is a sheriff officer?

In Scotland, sheriff officers are the legal equivalent of a bailiff. They work for individuals, companies, solicitors, local authorities and government departments to carry out court orders for disputes such as:

  • Evictions
  • Debt enforcement
  • Property disputes
  • Family matters such as divorce or adoption

Sometimes, they also deliver court documents if proof of delivery is required.

Sheriff officers are bound by strict regulations in Scottish law, so it’s important to know your rights if you ever encounter one.

We’ve set these out below, as well as some more information about what sheriff officers can and cannot do to recover your debt.

Sheriff officers must provide identification if you ask them for it. They also have to carry a red identity booklet containing their photo and a countersign from the sheriff clerk for the region/area in which they’re allowed to operate.

Even if they show you this, you can still ask who they are working for and contact their employer to confirm that what they say is true.

What information do you have to give sheriff officers?

You don’t have to give a sheriff officer any information that you’re uncomfortable disclosing. You can withhold your name and address, and you should never give them your phone number or bank details.

If an officer gets your phone number and is continuously calling to intimidate you, you can report them for harassment under The Communications Act 2003 and The Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Do you have to let sheriff officers into your home?

Unless they have a court order that allows them to access your property, you don’t have to let sheriff officers in. Deal with them outside your house, and ask them any questions through the door.

Sheriff officers and eviction

It’s important to note that sheriff officers can only work Monday to Saturday, 8am to 8pm. The only exception to this is if they are granted a specific court order to work at additional times, for example if they are recovering a child or someone in danger.

In eviction cases, you’ll be given two weeks’ notice of eviction. If you have not left the property by the date on the notice, the sheriff officers will send you a further notice with a date and time that they will arrive to evict you – which is normally within 48 hours.

In these instances, with the provision of a court order, officers can force entry into the property, including breaking locks, windows or forcing doors, whether you are at home or not. The costs incurred are the responsibility of the creditor but can be passed back to you as part of the settlement.

Where it’s called for, sheriff officers can use physical force to remove you from a property. In cases where this seems likely, they may appear accompanied by the police. Police are not allowed to help with the sheriff officer’s duties but will intervene if the law is broken during the eviction.

Sheriff officers and debt recovery

Sheriff officers can’t take everything. They’re only allowed to take non-essential items under the guidelines of exceptional attachment. This means that they can’t take certain items you need for your day-to-day life, for example your beds, clothes, computers and fitted electrical appliances.

You can view a list outlining recoverable and non-recoverable items here.

In cases where items are to be seized under exceptional attachment, sheriff officers have to give you notice that they’re doing so. Although they can gain access using force, they cannot take any items if no one is present, if the person present is under 16 or has a problem understanding what is happening due to language barriers or a physical or mental disability.

If the debt recovery is not accepted as a case of exceptional attachment the sheriff officer doesn’t have to give you notice and can visit you to remove property at their discretion.

Making a complaint about a sheriff officer

If you want to make a complaint against a sheriff officer, write to them and the office they work for. Our advice is to speak to an expert in order to make sure your requests and complaints are within the law and appropriate to your situation.

If you are not provided a reasonable solution to your complaint, you can write to the Sheriff Principal, who can organise an investigation if it’s deemed appropriate.

You can also make a complaint to the Society of Messengers-at-arms and Sheriff Officers, who cover all officers currently in operation in Scotland with disciplinary and complaint procedures.

Need help with sheriff officers?

There may still be time to stop the situation from escalating.

Be proactive, take ownership of the problem and try to reach an agreement with the sheriff officers that will work for everyone.

As soon as you find out that sheriff officers will be acting against you, get in touch with them, either by email or over the phone.

If it’s gone past that stage, and the sheriff officer is at your property, you can appeal to them directly. If you show you’re willing to sort out the debt, they may show you understanding, and explain any specific steps you can take.

If you’d rather not deal with the sheriff officer, you can contact the company, landlord, solicitor or the party that you’re in debt to. It’s always best to do this before any action escalates so you can come to an agreement that could prevent you from receiving a visit from sheriff officers.

Have sheriff officers been at your door? Don’t hide from the people you owe money to.

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