Tackling your debts

Dealing with debt collectors and sheriff officers in Scotland

Posted 14 October 2014

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Two in five Scots in a recent survey said they didn’t know the difference between a debt collector and a sheriff officer – do you?


Struggling with problem debt can be a difficult time, and one thing that can worry you is the threat of debt collectors taking action against you. A recent survey* found that three in 10 respondents said they had been contacted by someone trying to reclaim a debt or payment on behalf of a lender. Debt collectors and sheriffs can be intimidating, but it’s important to know what powers they have and what rights you have if they come round to your house.

Debt collection confusion

Two-fifths of the Scots who said they had previously been contacted by someone to recover a debt on a creditor’s behalf admitted that they had been unsure who was getting in touch with them at the time. What’s more, two-fifths of those respondents said that they didn’t know the difference between debt collectors and sheriff officers.

Though both agents can be employed to collect your debts, they have separate sets of powers and can require you to act in different ways. It can be confusing to know if your debt is being followed up by a sheriff officer or a debt collection agency, but knowing who you’re dealing with can help you to understand the situation and know your rights if someone calls you or comes round to your house.



Who has the power?

If someone gets in touch to discuss recovering debts you have, don’t panic. Make sure you ask what their job title is, so you know if you’re dealing with a debt collection company or sheriff officer, as your rights will differ depending on this.

Debt collection companies are usually hired by creditors to collect debts for them. They aren’t appointed by the courts so they don’t have any special legal powers. You don’t have to let them intimidate you, as they won’t be able to force entry into your home, remove your possessions, or evict you.

A sheriff officer does have legal powers as they are appointed by the court. They can use ‘necessary reasonable force’ to enter your home, but you have to have had prior warning of this. They may also remove possessions from your home, but they aren’t allowed to take anything that is legally recognised to be essential to your everyday life, and they can’t take any possessions if there isn’t someone who is at least 16 years old at home at the time. If you want to know more about sheriff officers’ powers and what they do, you can read about them here.

Coping with collectors

The main thing to remember if you have dealings with a debt collection agency or sheriff officer is to stay informed. Knowing your rights will enable you to make informed decisions and know what to expect.

Dealing with problem debt can be difficult and you may feel like you have no one to turn to. Feeling stressed or worried in this situation isn’t unusual, so it could help if you don’t have to cope with it on your own. If you’re looking for advice, there are experts you can speak to in confidence who can talk through your problems with you.


*OnePoll questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over between 12th August and 23rd August 2014, of whom 630 were Scottish.

by Christine Walsh

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