Commonly asked questions
Take a look at our most commonly asked questions about Sheriff Officers below and find out how to deal with the situation well.
The following advice applies to Scotland.
Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms are employed by private companies to carry out orders authorised by the Courts in Scotland. They work within a regulated code, collecting debts, taking control of goods, and enforcing evictions. They are not Bailiffs or Enforcement Agents.
A Sheriff Officer’s rights, responsibilities and powers differ depending on the kind of debt in question and the type of order decreed by the court.
A Sheriff Officer is not the same as a debt collector. Sheriff Officers have the power to take items.
A Charge to Pay or Charge for Payment is a document served to you by a Sheriff Officers firm (such as Scott & Co) that demands payment of a debt within a set time period, normally within 14 days.
We recommend you try and find out where the debt has come from and who the original creditor was. Contact the creditor and ask if you can agree on a payment schedule. You should be able to find their contact details and phone number on the letter. However, it’s important that you are not pressured into making a one-off or recurring payment that you can’t afford. If you have vulnerabilities or circumstances that might affect your ability to pay, like sickness or a change in employment, explain this to the creditor.
If you cannot afford anything toward an agreement with the Sheriff Officer or original creditor, we recommend you seek debt advice as soon as possible. Doing so will ensure you get the help you need for your individual situation.
Sheriff Officers carry an identity booklet; make sure you ask to look at this before they enter your property to ensure they are legitimate.
The officer should have a red identity booklet which contains:
a photograph of themselves
the crest of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service
the signature of the sheriff clerk for the area they work in
If you’re still not sure they are who they claim to be, you can request the name of the firm they work for and call them to check.
Sheriff Officers can only enter your home if they have the correct authority and permission to do so; this will be in the form of a document they must show you.
You can ask for evidence of this at the door, usually called a grant of warrant for lawful execution. If a Sheriff Officer is coming to take items from your home, this is usually in the form of an Exceptional Attachment order. If so, they must tell you in advance and can only take non-essential items.
Sheriff Officers are usually not allowed to visit at night.
Sheriff Officers cannot take anything if the only people at the property are under 16, cannot speak/understand English or do not understand the situation because of a physical or mental disability.
Sheriff Officers can only take non essential items. They can’t take items such as cookers or fridges which are essential to your home. A full list of essential items can be found here.
Sheriff Officers cannot take items necessary for someone’s employment or trade, up to £1,000 in value. They’re also not permitted to take items belonging to children.
Unfortunately, if the Sheriff Officer has permission they can use necessary reasonable force to enter your home which may mean forcing open a door, breaking a lock or breaking a window if you don’t let them in. However, this will only happen in exceptional circumstances.
Sheriff Officers can also take items from outside your home but only if they are not required for keeping your garden or yard in ‘good order’.
Sheriff Officers carry out orders granted by the court. In exceptional circumstances, this may include powers to lawfully enter your property. If you owe a debt, they may seek control of personal belongings to sell as repayment toward the debt. If you are being evicted, the Sheriff Officer has the right to physically remove you if you refuse to leave.
It is usually in your best interest to let a Sheriff Officer into your property as long as they have followed all the legal rules. If they have not followed the legal rules, you can contact the firm they represent, the Sheriff Principal or complain to the Society of Messengers at Arms and Sheriff Officers.
Attachment Orders and Exceptional Attachment Orders are court directives that permit the removal of items from a property in order to repay debts.
An Attachment Order allows a Sheriff Officer to take items from outside your home such as your vehicle.
An Exceptional Attachment Order allows Sheriff Officers to enter your home to seize possessions that can be used to pay off debts.
If the Sheriff Officer has an exceptional attachment order they can start to repossess items in your home to recover the debt.
Most Sheriff Officers will provide written notice that they’re coming to your home. Some court orders include stricter rules on how much notice they are obliged to give.
For evictions, they must provide at least 14-days notice for the property to be vacated, after the court grants the decree. If the Sheriff Officer is carrying out an Exceptional Attachment Order, they can only come to your home between 8am and 8pm, and they are not permitted to visit on a Sunday or public holiday.
The police cannot offer any assistance to a Sheriff Officer in relation to removal of personal items from a property or any other order. The police also cannot arrest you for not allowing a Sheriff Officer into the home.
The only time the police may be involved is if there is a risk of danger or to keep the peace.
Cars worth less than £3,000 are considered an essential item and therefore cannot be ceased by a Sheriff Officer.
If the car is worth more than £3,000 it may be taken by a Sheriff Officer.
Mobile homes cannot be taken if they are your only or main residence.
If an item belonging to another person has wrongly been taken control of, it is your responsibility to prove its ownership.
An application can be made to the court detailing the actual owner’s rights to the item, and this will stop a Sheriff Officer from selling the item with the court’s permission.
Where a Sheriff Officer has taken control of an item under joint ownership, they must ensure the co-owner is provided sufficient notice that they plan to sell the item in question. If the co-owner does not owe the debt, the Sheriff Officer must make sure the co-owner receives 50% of the money they make from selling the item.