Sheriff Officers Help & Advice
This information is applicable to Scotland only. In England and Wales, the equivalent enforcement officers are called bailiffs.
What is a sheriff officer
Sheriff officers are officers of the Scottish sheriff courts; they may be employed by firms of sheriff officers or be self-employed. They accept instruction from: individuals, companies, solicitors, local authorities and government departments.
What powers do sheriff officers have?
Sheriff officers are responsible for serving court papers and enforcing court orders. The court orders that officers may serve you can be for:
- Debt enforcement
- Property disputes
- Family matters such as adoption or divorce.
In addition, they can also carry out orders to:
- Remove members of your family from your house e.g. an abused child or violent partner
- Deliver a witness citation to you or other important legal papers when evidence that you received them is required.
What should you do if a sheriff officer comes to your home?
One of the first things you have the right to do when a sheriff officer comes to your home or workplace is to ask them to prove their identity. Every sheriff officer has a red identity booklet which contains: a picture of themselves, the crest of the Scottish court service, and the signature of the sheriff clerk for the area they work in. A sheriff officer must show you their identity booklet if you have asked.
The sheriff officer should confirm the following information to you when they visit:
- The individual company or organisation they are representing
- A telephone number on which you can contact the organisation
- The exact details of the amount it is claimed that you owe
It should be noted that in most cases the sheriff officer may have a witness present. The witness is not required to show you documentation as they are not under court order.
Do I need to let a sheriff officer into my home?
Sheriff officers can only enter your home if they have the correct authority from the court. They are required to be able to show the appropriate documentation before they enter your property. If you refuse the officer entry and they have the authority of the court, they can use what is known as “necessary reasonable force” to enter your property.
In some cases it may not be obvious from the court documentation that the sheriff officer has permission to enter your home. The document typically includes the phrase “grants warrant for all lawful exception” – this phrase grants the sheriff officer authority to enter. If you are still unsure you should phone the firm of sheriff officers.
Can a sheriff officer force entry?
As stated above, if a sheriff officer has the correct authority, they can use “necessary reasonable force” to enter the property. For instance, as long as they have the correct warrant they can force a door or break a lock or a window. If you try to obstruct a sheriff officer who is authorised to enter your home, you may be charged with breach of the peace.
A sheriff officer can force entry when no one is home, but only if they are either:
– Enforcing an eviction
– Ensuring certain work has been carried out, or;
– Recovering property
What can a sheriff officer take?
If you owe any debt, the court may decide that some of your belongings may be seized and then sold to help pay off what you owe.
In the event of this, sheriff officers may be given “exceptional attachment”; this means they have permission to enter your home or workplace and take some of your possessions.
A sheriff officer must tell you in advance if they are coming to seize possessions with exceptional attachment.
Sheriff officers can only take non-essential goods, otherwise labelled luxurious goods. Items which are thought to be necessary for everyday life – e.g. clothing, beds, computers and cooking appliances– are not allowed to be seized.
Even though sheriff officers may be allowed to force entry, they cannot take any of your possessions if nobody is home. Similarly, they cannot take anything if there is someone home but that person:
- is under 16 years old
- cannot speak or understand English
- does not understand the situation because of physical or mental disability.
Can a sheriff officer evict me?
If the court orders you to be evicted, a sheriff officer can be sent to your home to evict you.
The sheriff officer must give you advanced warning that they are coming to your home to evict you. You should be given at least 2 weeks’ notice.
If the sheriff officer has a court order to evict you and you refuse to leave, they have permission to physically remove you from your home.
A sheriff officer may bring the police with them when they try to evict you from the property. The police are unable to help the officer carry out the eviction, but they can arrest you if you break the law e.g. by causing a breach of the peace or attacking the sheriff officer.
Can a sheriff officer enter my property in the middle of the night?
A sheriff officer can only carry out an exceptional attachment for debt between the hours of 8am and 8pm and not on a Sunday or public holiday.
If a sheriff officer has a warrant to enter the property to check if someone is in danger – for example, a child which has to be removed for their own protection – then they would be able to enter the property during the night with the correct permission. It is highly likely that the police would also be involved in this instance.
If you believe that the sheriff officer carrying out a court order against you has behaved in an unreasonable or disreputable way, you should first write to the officer or the firm that employs him/her informing them of your complaint.
If you are unsatisfied with the reply of the firm or do not wish to contact the firm, then you may make a written complaint to the Sheriff Principle who can arrange for an investigation to be conducted. To contact the Sheriff Principle, you should contact the sheriff clerk at your local sheriff court.
Finally, you can also complain to the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers. It provides a service for the whole of Scotland. It has its own disciplinary procedures but often handles complaints on behalf of the Sheriff Principal’s office. Their contact details are provided below.
Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers
28 Rutland Square
Tel: 0131 292 0321