What is a Sheriff Officer?

Sheriff officers enforce court orders that are debt-related. They do this on behalf of government departments, solicitors, local authorities, individual creditors, and companies. Included in the court orders they serve are orders to 1) evict you, 2) force you to pay a debt that is owed, 3) make changes to a property of yours that there was a dispute about, 4) aid in family matters including divorce or adoption, 5) detain or remove family members (an abused child, for example) and 6) to ensure that you receive important legal papers.

In Scotland, sheriff officers are officers of the court who are granted the authority to serve court papers to individuals, either at their workplace or place of residence. They may also receive court orders from the sheriff court and carry those out on the court’s behalf. They are typically either employed privately by a firm or are self-employed.

Sheriff officers are only able to enforce an existing order issued by the court, so their powers are limited. They will typically make an effort to discuss with you what action is being served, as well as explaining the documents and process involved.

Their powers include:

  • Authority to enter your home (but only with the necessary paperwork).
  • Ability to force entry – with the correct paperwork – if you do not allow them to enter. They are not permitted to force entry if you are not present unless they are 1) enforcing an eviction, 2) making sure that certain work has been undertaken, and 3) recovering owed property. This recovery of property does not, however, extend to seizing property to be sold (which would be an ‘exception attachment’).
  • If the person involved is not in full understanding of what’s going on, sheriff officers are not permitted to enforce exceptional attachment. Full understanding means they are an adult over the age of 16, can understand and speak English, and have no mental or physical impairments that might reduce their capability to understand the situation.
  • They can enforce ‘exceptional attachment’ between 8 am and 8 pm, Monday to Saturday, with the exception of public holidays.
  • They are allowed to access previously closed or locked areas if they are in the process of enforcing an exceptional attachment in your home.
  • When using their power of exceptional attachment, sheriff officers are required to give you 4 days of notice in advance.
  • With the correct warrant, a sheriff officer can enter the property at night if someone in the property is in danger. A child in need of protection would be an example of this.
  • In the event of an eviction, they can physically remove you if you are refusing to leave the property.

It is important to note that only existing orders can be enforced by a sheriff officer. They do not have the same authority as the police, so they cannot make arrests and all of their actions must be supported by the appropriate paperwork. In certain situations the police may accompany the sheriff officer, not to aid in the proceedings but rather to keep order, making necessary arrests if you break the law in any way (i.e. breach of the peace, assault etc).

A sheriff officer might be called upon by creditors to recover a debt, which is known as enforcing ‘diligence’. If a ‘Charge to Pay’ or a ‘Charge for Payment’ order – which instructs you to pay the full debt within a certain time period, generally 14 days – has been issued, any diligence can be enforced by the sheriff officer. This diligence includes recovering goods (such as hire purchase items), monetary debt that is owed or the repossession of your home. Upon instruction from the creditor, sheriff officers can reach an agreement on a suitable arrangement to avoid taking further action. In the case of enforcing ‘diligence’, the more time passes the more powers are awarded to the sheriff officer.

If a sheriff officer comes to your home or workplace, you are certainly within your right to ask for proof of identity before going any further. For identification purposes, all sheriff officers have a red identity booklet containing:

  • A photograph
  • The Scottish court service crest
  • The sheriff clerk’s signature

If you ask to see this booklet, the sheriff officer is required to show it to you. You can also request to see the document granting them access to the property. They must provide you with advance notice before they come to enforce an eviction and cannot do so at night unless they have a warrant permitting them to enter to remove a child who is in danger.

Sheriff officers can use ‘necessary reasonable force’ to enter the home or workplace if you refuse to let them in (with permission from the court). This includes forcing the door open, breaking the lock and breaking the window. Preventing the officer from entering can lead to you receiving a charge of breaching the peace.

If they come when you are not there, the sheriff officer can only force entry if they need to carry out an eviction, retrieve property or ensure that certain work has been carried out.

If you have any grievances with the conduct of the sheriff officer you can request an explanation from the firm that employs them. If you don’t receive an answer that you are satisfied with, you can make a complaint to the Sheriff Principal. If you do this, there will be an investigation.

Click here to get started with debt free help

Speak to us today!

The best way to deal with your debt is to deal with it head on. Though that doesn’t need to be alone.
We can help you each step of the way for you to becoming debt free.
Use our debt calculator to find out if we can help you.

Solutions Scotland is a trading style of Milton & Stirling Ltd – Milton & Stirling | Debt Advice Specialists

Please note should you enquire you will be called from a Milton & Stirling debt advisor, we do not sell your data on to marketing companies.

Company Number SC587851

DPA number ZA431921

Milton & Stirling Ltd are an Appointed Representative of MichaelAlan Ltd who are authorised & regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, FRN 690939.

As part of our free service, we’ll review your financial situation, explain the available options and recommend a debt solution which is suitable for you. The risks of all suitable solutions will be explained clearly and if you decide to go ahead with a debt solution we will refer you to one of our trusted providers who specialise in the management of that debt solution. We’ll be paid for introducing you or for the preparatory work we do, depending on your debt solution fees may be payable if ongoing services are provided. Read about fees and key information in our terms & conditions.

To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Helper, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.

You can find out more about our services and how we handle your information in our Privacy Policy

For complaints see our Complaints Handling – Policy and Procedures