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i The advice on this page applies to residents of Scotland only.

Sheriff officers rights and powers. What they can and can’t do

Sheriff officers enforce any order issued by the Sheriff Court in Scotland.

Sheriff officers are responsible for enforcing diligence, which is how creditors can recover a debt owed.

Diligence can only begin in certain situations. Our section on court action in Scotland can help you understand what to do and how to deal with debts that are being dealt with by the Scottish Court.

What powers do sheriff officers have?

Sheriff officers can serve or issue court papers, either by hand or first class recorded delivery. Where possible they will try to speak to you about what action is being served and explain the importance of the documents and the process involved. Sheriff officers also enforce any diligence. Diligence cannot begin until a ‘Charge to Pay’ or a ‘Charge for Payment’ has been issued. This tells you to pay the debt in full within a specific period of time, usually 14 days.

Sheriff officers can start diligence to enforce the recovery of goods (e.g. hire purchase items), money owed or the repossession of your home. Sheriff officers can, on the instruction of the creditor, agree a suitable arrangement to prevent further action being taken.

If you’re not sure what to do, we’d recommend contacting us for advice on your options. Diligence can include arresting your earnings, attachment of goods, arrestment of your bank account and petitioning for your bankruptcy.

Free multilingual debt guide

We've put together a free, downloadable guide to help you deal with your money worries

Our guide to dealing with debt in Scotland covers debt collection processes, where to get help, budgeting and what to expect from a debt advice session. It’s available to download in English, Urdu, Punjabi and Polish. Find out more.

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Can a sheriff officer break into my home?

It's very rare for a sheriff officer to break into your home. This is only possible when instructed by a court order and the method of diligence is an ‘Exceptional attachment of goods’. If the sheriff officers do break into your home they must leave it secure and lock fast.

You must be given at least 4 days notice before the sheriff officer attempts to gain entry. Sheriff officers can remove items immediately or give you notice of when they'll return to remove the items.

Sheriff officers aren't allowed to enter a property where the only person inside is under 16years old. They can’t remove goods either outside or inside your property when there's substantial proof that the goods don’t belong to you.

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Can I complain about a sheriff officer?

You can complain about a sheriff officer if you believe you've been treated unfairly. You can't complain about the outcome of your case, or how your case has been handled. However, you can get legal advice if you think a mistake has been made in court regarding your case. 

Please visit the mygov.scot website for more information on how to complain about a sheriff that you've been dealing with.

Help and advice on sheriff officers

Our dedicated team in Glasgow can offer you free, impartial advice on your options. We can also discuss a range of debt solutions tailored to your situation.