Powers of Sheriff Officers
Sheriff Officers are officers of the court in Scotland who are employed by companies of Sheriff Officers, to recover unpaid Council Tax or Business Rates accompanied by explicit authorisation in the form of a Summary Warrant. Recovery instructions are received from:
- Local Authorities
Sheriff Officers are deployed to enforce court orders. A couple of examples of court orders that they can serve on you are:
- eviction notices
- debt enforcement
There are a number of other instances whereby a Sheriff Officer may be engaging with you however, we shall keep the focus here on Local Taxation debt recovery.
The court officers for the Court of Session (the higher civil court) are called Messengers-at-Arms and have similar powers to enforce orders from the Court of Session. A Messenger-at-Arms is always also a Sheriff Officer.
Can a Sheriff Officer enter your home
A Sheriff Officer can only come into your home if there is the correct authority from the court to do so. You can ask the Sheriff Officer to show you the document that states they can come into your home. In some cases, it is not always clear from the court document that permission to enter your home has been authorised.
The document will typically include a phrase such as; grants warrant for all lawful execution. If you are in any doubt, contact Libranox to discuss your situation.
As with any visitor to your home, or business, you should be in the habit of asking to check their identification.
Can a Sheriff Officer force entry
If you refuse entry to a Sheriff Officer and they are in possession of the appropriate authority to enter your home, they are able to gain entry by using necessary and reasonable force.
Provided they have the correct warrant they can force a door or break a lock or a window. Be wary though, as you may be charged with breach of the peace for obstructing an officer of the court in this scenario.
Can a Sheriff Officer remove goods if I am not at home?
For all enforcement activity that would require the Sheriff Officer to seize possessions to sell them at public auction (known as an exceptional attachment) there must to be someone at the property who is no less than 16 years old and understands what is happening.
Sheriff Officers are not permitted to go ahead if the available person, when they arrive:
- is less than 16 years old
- does not speak or understand English; or
- does not seem able to understand the situation due to physical or mental disability.
When are Sheriff Officers permitted to attend my property?
Sheriff Officers usually have to inform you, in writing, to let you know when they are coming.
Exceptional Attachment activities can only be conducted between the hours of 8.00am and 8.00pm Monday to Saturday (excluding Bank Holidays).
Should I contact the Sheriff Officer directly?
When the Sheriff Officers are enforcing a court order for a debt you can still contact the Local Authority, to whom you owe the money, by telephone to make a payment as this will demonstrate that you are willing to resolve the situation.
You may also be able to prevent further enforcement activity by negotiating with the Local Authority to make payment to the Sheriff Officers.
Confirming the identity of Sheriff Officers
All Sheriff Officers are provided with an identity booklet which contains a photograph of them. This will also display the crest of the Scottish court service.
This will always and without exception be countersigned by the Sheriff Clerk for the area in which they operate.
If you are anxious about the identity of anyone claiming to be a Sheriff Officer you can ask for the name of the company that they are employed by so you can call them to confirm the information.
Can a Sheriff Officer enforce a court order in the middle of the night
A Sheriff Officer is not permitted to enforce a debt outside of the aforementioned operating hours.
Complaints about Sheriff Officers
If you feel that a Sheriff Officer has not conducted themselves in a reasonable or reputable way whilst carrying out their duties, or you feel that they have exceeded their powers, we would recommend you raise this, in the first instance, to the officer or the company that employs them. This will be investigated by the company
If you are not happy with outcome of the initial complaint or don’t wish to complain to the officer or their employers directly, you may submit a written complaint to the Sheriff Principal who can arrange for the investigation to be carried out.
The Sheriff Principal can be contacted through the Sheriff Clerk at the local sheriff court.
You may also submit your complaint to the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers. They provide a service for the whole of Scotland and has its own disciplinary procedures but more often will handle complaints from the Sheriff Principal’s office.
Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers
Forth House, 28 Rutland Square, Edinburgh, EH1 2BW