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Tackling your debts

Sheriff officers collecting your debt in Scotland: what can they do?

Posted 01 March 2015 by Shelley Bowers

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If you live in Scotland, you have rights when it comes to sheriff officers. Find out what they are here.

If you live in Scotland, you have rights when it comes to sheriff officers – and they have certain rights when it comes to collecting your debt.

Struggling with your debts in Scotland could end up with you receiving a visit from the sheriff’s officer. Although it’s very rare, as creditors must have tried every other way possible to collect the money before resorting to this, it is possible.

If it did happen to you, would you know what your rights are? And, just as importantly, would you know what sheriff officers can and can’t do? If you’ve answered ‘no’ to these questions, you should take a few moments to read and understand what you should and shouldn’t do when the sheriff officer comes calling.

What can I do to stop a Sheriff officer visiting me?

If you’ve been contacted by one or more of your lenders and they’ve told you that a sheriff officer will be visiting you then you should take action immediately.  If you do, it may be possible to stop the visit.

One option is to speak to a debt advisor or a Money Advisor.  You can contact Citizens Advice Scotland, your local Money Advisor or a firm like Debt Advisory Centre.  A debt advisor will gain a thorough understanding of your financial situation and will discuss your options with you.  There are a number of  debt solutions available (like DAS and Trust Deeds) that will stop your lenders taking further action against you (including sheriff officers) and could help you repay your debts at a pace you can afford. If you're not sure what to do, contact us, using the links on the left, and have a chat about what options are suitable for your situation.

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Alternatively, you could contact the lender(s) you owe money to yourself and work out a payment plan. They are usually quite open to trying to get things sorted, if you make the effort too! The worst thing you can do is ignore the issue. So, get on the phone and talk to people. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you can always give permission for someone to speak on your behalf.

If you can show your lenders how much you can realistically afford to put towards your debts, they're likely to accept if it looks like the best way of recovering the money they're owed. If you have been contacted by a sheriff officer already, you are still allowed to contact your lender and make a payment towards your debt.

How do I know that they are real sheriff officers?

The first thing you need to do when a sheriff officer turns up at your home is find out if they are genuine. They should carry their red identification booklet, which will detail their name, photograph and a crest of the Scottish Court Service, which looks like this:

 

The ID booklet should also contain the signature of the sheriff clerk. They are obliged to show it to you, if you ask.

Does the sheriff officer have to give me warning that they’re coming?

Only in certain circumstances, like when they are using an exceptional attachment order. This is when the creditor applies for permission for the sheriff officer to enter your home and take possessions to clear your debts. If this is granted, it gives the sheriff officer the power to open locked places in your home and attach, which just means take, items that are allowed. This will always exclude things that you need for day-to-day life. 

That’s enough information for one day. Next time we’ll have a look at the rules around how a sheriff officer can legally gain access to your home.

Can a sheriff officer come into my home?

First, let’s make it clear – a sheriff officer can only come into your home if there’s an existing court order against you. The court order gives them the permission to enter your home, in some circumstances whether you are there or not. If a sheriff officer does show up at your home, you should ask to see the document that allows them to enter. The document should say something like 'grants warrant for all lawful execution'.

However, if you're not sure, it's important to phone the sheriff officer's firm to check. If the documentation is genuine, they will have no problem waiting while you do that and should provide you with the details you need to contact their office, including the telephone number, reference and any other details you might need.

Can a sheriff officer break into my home?

The sheriff officer is only allowed to break into your home if they have the necessary paperwork and you refuse them entry. This is what’s called using 'necessary reasonable force'. And can include breaking a lock or a window – or forcing a door. It’s also useful to keep in mind that you should not try to obstruct them. We know it can be really hard to just stand by and watch people take things from your home, but if you do try to obstruct them, you’ll find yourself in trouble and strife – you could even be charged with breach of the peace.

In some situations, such as when they're recovering some property, enforcing an eviction or making sure that some work has been carried out, they can force entry whether you are present or not.

Can a sheriff officer come into my home at night?

In some circumstances, yes. But, they’d need special permission from the court and in cases of debt, this is very, very unlikely.   

Can sheriff officers take my possessions?

Sheriff officers can take some of your possessions, which they’ll try to sell in order to recoup some of the money that you owe to your lenders. They do, however, have to follow very strict rules when it comes to taking your belongings. So, anything that’s recognised by law as being essential for your day-to-day life, such as pots and pans, your fridge, your beds, sofa and so on, usually cannot be touched. If they try to take something that's not officially recognised as being essential – but is essential for you in your day-to-day life – you have the right to put your case and argue against it being taken. They are also allowed to take items that are outside of your home, which could mean your car, or something in your garden, shed or garage. And again, it would have to be something that's not essential.

Can I make a complaint about the way I’ve been treated by a sheriff officer?

Yes, you can. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly by the sheriff officer, for example they turned up late at night, you can write to their employer. If they give no response, a response you’re not happy with or the sheriff officer is self-employed, you can write directly to the Sheriff Principle, who’ll arrange for an investigation to be carried out. You can contact the sheriff principle through the sheriff clerk at the local sheriff court.

You can also complain to the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers. The address is:

Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers

8-12 Torphichen Street

Edinburgh

EH3 8JQ

Tel: 0131 228 2866

Email: admin@smaso.ednet.co.uk

Website: www.smaso.org  

So, if you think the sheriff officer is going to come knocking, at least now you’ve armed yourself with the information on what both you and they can and can’t do. And if you feel that you’d like more help with your debts, you can contact one of our Debt Advisors using the buttons on the left-hand side of the page.

 

 

 

 

by Shelley Bowers

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