Sheriffs

This information only applies in Scotland.

In Scotland enforcement agents are known as sheriff officers. Sheriff officers legally authorised person who works on behalf of the courts to recover an outstanding debt, repossess goods or even carry out the eviction of a tenant. Sheriff officers be instructed by private individuals, companies, lawyers, local authorities and government departments.

Court officers acting for the Court of Sessions (also known as ‘Messengers-at-Arms’) have similar powers to enforce orders granted by the Court of Sessions. Messengers-at-Arms are also always sheriff officers.

Sheriff officers may only enter your home if they have the correct authority from the courts to do so. You can ask the sheriff officers to provide evidence of this by showing you the document stating they can enter your home. 

If you refuse entry to a sheriff officer (who has the necessary authority) they may use ‘necessary reasonable force’ to enter. This means that, provided they have the correct authority, they can force open a door or break a locked window to gain access to your property.

Where you refuse entry to a sheriff officer you may also be charged with breach of the peace.

Sheriff officers can only force entry where they are enforcing an eviction.

If you are not home, sheriff officers can force entry provided that they are enforcing an eviction, ensuring certain work has been carried out or recovering property. 

Where the sheriff officers are enforcing an action that involves them seizing belongings to sell them on, someone over the age of 16 who understands what is happening has to be in the property. Sheriff officers cannot proceed if the person in the property does not speak or understand English or does not seem able to understand the situation because of a physical or mental disability. 

Generally, for evictions and debt enforcement actions, sheriff officers should give you notice that they are coming.

Where you are being evicted, you should receive a notice telling you that you have to leave the property within 14 days of the court granting the decree. You should generally be given at least 48 hours’ notice of the date you have to leave by.

Sheriff officers can only enter your property to seize possession to sell them on between 8 am and 8 pm. Further, they cannot come on a Sunday or on a public holiday.

Sheriff officers must only officially notify you of the eviction date (in eviction cases). You should be given a minimum of two weeks’ notice.

If you haven’t paid off a debt, you might be sent a letter from the sheriff officers saying they will visit your home to collect the payment. However, they will only do this is they are using a power known as ‘exceptional attachment’ (where the sheriff officers seize possessions for them to be sold on).

If the sheriff officers are enforcing a court order for debt, you may still contact the person to whom the debt is owed and make a payment towards the debt. You may be able to prevent further action by the sheriff officers by negotiating with your creditors or by paying the sheriff officers.

Sheriff officers carry with them an identity booklet. This booklet should contain a photograph of the officer in question and the crest of the Scottish court service. Further, it must be signed by the sheriff clerk responsible for the geographical area in which the sheriff officer works. Sheriff officers must show you their ID if you ask to see it.

Where legal papers are being delivered, sheriff officers may be accompanied by a witness. As such a witness is not a sheriff officers they will not carry with them the same form of identification as the sheriff officer.

Where you want to confirm the identity of someone saying they are a sheriff officer, you can ask for the name of the firm the sheriff officer works for and contact the.

For further information read guidance on Sheriff officer powers when they visit your home or business.