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Sheriff Officers: Everything You Need to Know
Sheriff officers are people who Scottish sheriff courts use to make sure court orders are followed. If court orders have not been followed, sheriff officers are then sometimes used to carry out enforcement procedures.
There are lots of reasons a sheriff officer could visit you – but if you’re having money troubles, they may be instructed to come to your home to begin seizing items to help settle your debt or debts.
Sheriff officers only operate in Scotland – but they carry out some roles that are similar to bailiffs in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.
If you think sheriff officers may be coming to your house, it’s important to seek debt advice quickly. There are debt solutions that can help – but you will need to get help soon to avoid the possibility of having officers enter your home.
What is a sheriff officer in Scotland?
When any kind of case is dealt with in the sheriff court in Scotland, the judge who makes a decision on that case is called a ‘sheriff’. Sheriffs make legal decisions about a huge range of different subjects – everything from housing and family matters to evictions and debt enforcement.
Sometimes, the sheriff will require someone to act on their behalf to enforce a decision that has been made. These people are called ‘sheriff officers’.
Sheriff officers can be self-employed or work for a firm of sheriff officers. They can work for a variety of people or clients, including:
- Local authorities
- Government departments
If you have an outstanding debt with a company and the sheriff court has issued a court order saying it must be paid, the company you owe money to could ask a sheriff officer to step in if you do not pay.
Of course, it’s not just court orders relating to debt that sheriff officers help to enforce. Sheriff officers could be used to evict people from a property; they might work on behalf of social services to protect people, or they may even deliver important legal papers to ensure they get to the people that need to see them.
What powers do sheriff officers have in Scotland?
Sheriff’s officers have the power to enforce certain court orders. Those orders usually involve:
- Debt enforcement (including council tax debt)
- Property disputes
- Family matters – including adoption and divorce
In some cases, sheriff officers will be required to carry out other court instructed orders, including:
- Removing a family member from a house (perhaps if someone is in danger or to physically remove a violent partner – for example)
- Delivery of important court papers, documents, or other legal documents (such as a witness citation) – when there needs to be evidence that you’ve received them
It’s important to remember that a sheriff officer’s powers depend on why they’re coming to your home. They will always carry paperwork from the court explaining why they’re there and what they can reasonably do at your property.
What should you do if a sheriff officer visits your home?
Whether you’re struggling with debt or facing other legal issues, it’s very important that you know what to do if a sheriff officer comes to your house. There are three very important questions to ask:
Ask to see their identification
A sheriff officer will always carry an official identity booklet and must show it to you if you ask to see it.
This is a small red booklet that contains their picture, the crest of the Scottish court service, and details about the area they work in. The booklet will always be signed by the sheriff clerk for the area too.
Note: Sometimes, a sheriff officer will be accompanied by a witness. They will not have the same ID with them as they are not acting on behalf of the court.
Ask who they are working on behalf of
Sheriff officers can visit your home for a variety of reasons. To avoid any confusion, you should ask exactly who they are working for. If you ask, they should provide you with a telephone number to contact the company to confirm why they’re at your property.
Ask to see their official paperwork
The official paperwork that the sheriff officer brings to your home will go into a little more detail about why they’re there. It will also tell you whether or not they are legally allowed to enter your home or take your things.
If the officer is visiting because of a debt or debts, the paperwork will also explain exactly how much is owed.
Can a sheriff officer come into your home in Scotland?
Whether or not a sheriff officer can enter your house depends on why they’re there and the paperwork they’re carrying.
When you look at the paperwork, you should look for the phrase ‘grants warrant for all lawful execution’ – as this is the legal term that means sheriff officers have been given legal authority to come into your house.
If the sheriff officer is telling you they have the right to enter but you’re not sure, you should ask to talk to the firm they work for who will be able to confirm.
Can a sheriff officer force entry to your home?
Assuming the paperwork they carry lets them come into your home, a sheriff officer does have the right to force entry.
This means they can rightfully force a door open, break a lock, or break a window to get in. It’s always better to allow peaceful entry – and if you try to stop an officer entering your house if they have a warrant, you could be charged with a breach of the peace.
A Sheriff officer may also enter or force entry to your home when you’re not there – but this would only happen if they’re evicting you, recovering a property, or making sure certain work has been carrie
Can a sheriff officer take your things?
If a sheriff officer is coming to your house to enforce court action that relates to an unpaid debt, then they may have the right to take some of your things to sell to help pay off what you owe.
Again, much like their right to enter your home – a sheriff officer must be carrying the right paperwork if they’re going to take any of your possessions.
They must also give you four days notice if they’re going to remove items from your property.
If they’re at your house to take things away, their paperwork will mention an ‘exceptional attachment’. If they are there to execute an exceptional attachment, sheriff officers can only visit to take items between 8am-8pm Monday to Saturday – and not on public holidays.
Can sheriff officers evict me from my house in Scotland?
If a court has ordered that you should be evicted from your house, then it will probably be a sheriff officer who comes to ensure the eviction takes place.
You should always get a notice of eviction 14 days before the actual eviction takes place.
When local sheriff court officers come to your home to evict you, they do have the right to physically remove you from your home if you refuse to leave.
Physically removing you will always be a last resort though – and if it comes to this, the police will also usually be called, and you could be charged with a breach of the peace.
Can sheriff officers come to my home late at night?
The time that sheriff officers can visit you will depend on why they’re attending.
If the sheriff officers are there with a court order to carry out an exceptional attachment to help a company recover debt that’s owed to them, they can only come between 8am-8pm from Monday to Saturday – and never on a Sunday or a public holiday.
However, there are times when an officer could come to your house at any time – even without notice.
This could be the case if they were coming with a court order to remove a child that the court suspected could be at harm – but in cases like this, the police would almost certainly accompany the sheriff officers.
Avoiding sheriff officers
Having sheriff officers visit your house and execute an exceptional attachment to start taking your possessions usually doesn’t come as a surprise. You will almost always have had communication from the company you owe beforehand.
Even if this is the case, you may still be able to avoid sheriff officers visiting and taking goods from your home – but you will need to act quickly. Seek professional debt advice today and explore debt solutions designed for people in your situation.
If you feel that a sheriff officer you’ve dealt with has been unreasonable, unprofessional, or has broken any rules around how they should deal with you, you can complain.
To start with, it’s a good idea to write a letter of complaint to the service or firm that employs the officer. If you’re unhappy with the firm’s reply or you’d just prefer not to talk to them, you can write to the Sheriff Principal.
The Sheriff Principal may arrange for an investigation into the case. The sheriff clerk at your local court will be able to provide you with the address needed.
Alternatively, you can also complain to the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers. This is a service that covers all of Scotland. They can be contacted at:
Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers
28 Rutland Square
Tel: 0131 292 0321