Sheriff Officers in Scotland are similar to bailiffs in England, but there are a few key differences that are very important to learn. Knowing the law and what to do in certain circumstances could prove very helpful in the future if you should ever come across a Sheriff Officer, and it’s also very helpful for making sure they don’t overstep any boundaries. If your debts are beginning to spiral out of control then these details could prove extremely useful.
Sheriff Officers are officers of the court who are employed by different firms, or they can be self-employed. They take orders from individuals, companies, solicitors, local authorities and government departments, and they can enforce a number of court orders. This includes eviction, debt enforcement, property disputes and family matters such as adoption or divorce. However they are not the same as the police, and they can only enforce existing court orders or deliver legal papers. Sometimes this power may include a civil warrant that allows them to detain or remove someone from premises.
Before a creditor sends a Sheriff Officer to you they must have first tried other ways of collecting your money. They also need a court order to enter your home and seize any possessions, so make sure you ask to see the correct documentation first. Documents allowing entry into your home usually include phrases such as ‘grants warrant for all lawful execution’. If you have any doubt as to whether the documents allow the Sheriff Officer into your home then phone the firm that sent him.
If a Sheriff Officer has the correct authority to enter your home and you refuse to let them in, they are allowed to use what’s called ‘necessary reasonable force’. This means they could decide to force a door open or break a lock on a window. You could also be charged with breach of the peace if you refuse entry to an officer of the court who has the correct documentation. If a lock or a window is broken by a Sheriff Officer then the person pursuing the court order, such as a landlord or creditor, has to pay for a replacement.
If you aren’t in your home when a Sheriff Officer comes then they can only force entry if they are enforcing an eviction, ensuring certain work has been carried out or recovering property. For enforcements involving the confiscation of possessions to sell them (exceptional attachment) to occur there has to be someone in the home who is at least 16 years of age who understands what’s going on.
There are also rules regarding the times when a Sheriff Officer can enter your home. For eviction and debt enforcement they usually have to write to tell you they are coming. A Sheriff Officer can only carry out exceptional attachment for debt between 8am and 8pm, and not on a Sunday or on a public holiday. The only time this rule doesn’t stand is if a Sheriff Officer has a warrant to enter the property to see if someone is in danger.
It’s imperative that you check the identity of Sheriff Officers before you allow them into your home. Every officer has an identity booklet with a photo of themselves and the crest of the Scottish court service, so ask to see this first. If you’re still unsure about the identify of someone claiming to be a Sheriff Officer then you can ask for the name of the firm they work for and phone them up to confirm.
Sheriff Officers do have the power to physically remove you from the home if you are being evicted. However it is advised that you leave without this happening, as you could be charged with breach of the peace if you come across angry and obstructive. You should get plenty of warning before an eviction, though, which is usually at least two weeks notice. If you feel like a Sheriff Officer has been unreasonable or acted against the law then you can write to the officer of the firm that employs them to ask for an explanation. If you aren’t happy with the response then you can make a written complaint to the Sheriff Principal who may arrange for an investigation.
Sheriff Officers in Scotland come with quite a lot of power, provided they have the correct documentation. However it’s important to know your rights, and always double check to make sure they are who they say they are. If you feel like debt is piling up and you’re having trouble staying on top of it, get in touch with Trust Deed Scotland today. We provide superb, ethical debt advice and can tell you about the best steps to take next if you want to gain control over your finances again.