Having unpaid debt causes a great deal of stress. This stress can be made worse if you know you are expecting a visit from a Sheriff Officer about your debt. However, some of that stress can be eased by understanding a bit more about who Sheriff Officers are and the powers they hold.
This article will explain more about Sheriff Officers and what they can and can’t do. It will also tell you where you can get free help to deal with Sheriff Officers.
Who are Sheriff Officers and who do they work for?
Individuals, companies, solicitors, local authorities and government departments can go to the Sheriff Court to obtain court orders for things such as eviction, debt collection and property disputes.
Sheriff Officers are officers of the Sheriff Court and they have the power to enforce court orders. They are engaged by the person or organisation that has obtained the court order to enforce it on their behalf.
There are lots of firms of Sheriff Officers in Scotland. You may have heard of some of the bigger names such as Scott and Co and Stirling Park. Sheriff Officers can also be self employed.
What powers do Sheriff Officers have to collect debt?
Councils may engage Sheriff Officers to enforce court orders to collect council tax, HMRC tax arrears, non domestic rates, housing benefit overpayment or former tenant arrears. Companies may engage them to collect unpaid consumer debt. Sheriff Officers act on behalf of the creditor (the person, organisation or business that is owed money).
Because they are officers of the Sheriff Court, Sheriff Officers have considerable powers to enforce court orders. However, their official status also means that what they can and can’t do – and can and can’t charge – is strictly regulated.
Sheriff Officers have the authority to negotiate with the person who owes the money to put a repayment plan in place. They can also request information such as employer details, National Insurance number and bank account details to help them with this.
If a repayment plan is not agreed and if the creditor obtains a formal charge for payment from the Sheriff Court, Sheriff Officers have further powers to help them collect the debt that is owed.
Once a formal charge for payment has been granted, Sheriff Officers can arrest wages, freeze bank accounts and take money from bank accounts. Sheriff Officers also have the power to carry out what is known as exceptional attachment. This is the part that so many people in debt fear – a visit from the Sheriff Officer to collect your belongings and sell them.
What powers do Sheriff Officers have when they visit my home to collect debt?
The powers that Sheriff Officers have when they visit your home to carry out exceptional attachment (collect your possessions to sell them to recover the debt) are strictly regulated.
The Sheriff Officer can only carry out an exceptional attachment if the creditor (the person or organisation that is owed the money) has obtained a charge for payment that has been issued by the Sheriff Court.
Before the Sheriff Officer visits you should receive a letter telling you when they are coming. Sheriff Officers can only visit between 8.00am and 8.00pm Monday to Saturday. They cannot visit on Sundays or public holidays.
You must also have received a Debt Advice and Information Package from your creditor. This is a booklet that gives you important information to help you deal with your creditors.
When the Sheriff Officer visits, there must be someone in the house who is over 16 years old and is able to fully understand the situation and what is happening. That means the person must be able to speak and understand English and they must not suffer any mental or physical disability that could prevent them from understanding.
The Sheriff Officer can only enter your home if they have been given authority to do so by the Sheriff Court. The Sheriff Officer should have brought the document that gives them permission to enter your home with them. If you are in any doubt about whether permission has been granted, you can call the firm of Sheriff Officers to check.
If they have the correct authority to enter your home, a Sheriff Officer can use “necessary reasonable force” to do so. If you try to prevent a Sheriff Officer from entering your home when they have the correct permission, you can be charged with breach of the peace for obstructing an officer of the court. Necessary reasonable force includes breaking a lock or window or forcing a door.
If the Sheriff Officer is visiting your home to recover a debt, they cannot force entry if you are out.
Where can I go for help if I’m worried about a visit from a Sheriff Officer?
There are plenty of places you can go to seek advice if you are worried about a visit from a Sheriff Officer. Council Tax Advisors is an organisation that offers free help and advice on all aspects of debt. They can negotiate with Sheriff Officers and creditors on your behalf. They will also be able to give you advice based on your specific situation and tell you the options that are open to you.
The important thing to remember is that it is never too late to seek help. If you are worried about debt or are expecting a visit from a Sheriff Officer, contact Council Tax Advisors today and start to take back control.