Sheriff Officers do not have the same powers as police officers. Sheriffs can only enforce court orders or serve legal papers. They cannot make their own decisions or rulings on cases and have serious restrictions on what they can and cannot do. Sheriff Officers can evict people from their homes, and arrest wages and possessions to cover debts if given the power by a court order.
In most cases, no. However, Sheriff Officers can enter your house if they have a specific court order empowering them to do so. This is called an ‘exceptional attachment order’. If Sheriff Officers claim to have the right to enter your property, ask to see the documentation. The circumstance in which ‘exceptional attachment orders’ are granted is when Sheriff Officers need to seize belongings or assess the value of belongings that can be seized to pay outstanding debts.
Exceptional attachment orders can only be carried out between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm, and not on Sundays or Bank Holidays.There also needs to be a responsible adult over 16 years old present in the house in order for Sheriffs to enter.
Only if carrying an exceptional attachment order giving them the right to enter your home. If refused entry, under an exceptional attachment order they are allowed to use ‘necessary reasonable force’ to enter the property. This means they can force a door or break a window. Any damage done while forcing entry will be paid for by your creditors.
If you obstruct a Sheriff Officer from entering your home when they have the correct authority to do so, you may be charged with breaching the peace.
Sheriff Officers can only force entry when the house is empty if they are enforcing an eviction, ensuring certain work has been carried out or if they are recovering property.
To seize possessions under an exception attachment order, there has to be someone over 16 years of age in the property. Also, they are not allowed to enter the property if no one in the house over 16 speaks or understands English, or, if the person in the property does not understand the situation due to a physical or mental disability.
Sheriff Officers can only take your possessions in rare circumstances when they are granted permission from the court to seize belongings for sale to cover outstanding debts.
Sheriff Officers are very limited as to what they can take, as the court understands that most possessions are essential. However, Sheriff Officers can take goods from outside your home, such as bicycles, motorcycles and cars not ‘reasonably required’, WITHOUT an attachment order.
Some of the items exempt from ‘exceptional attachment orders’ are:
- Beds and bedding,
- Chairs and sofas,
- Lights or light fittings,
- Heating appliances,
- Fridges or anything connected with storing, preparing or eating food,
- Furniture for storing food,
- Tools for maintenance of the house or its contents,
- Home computers,
- Uniforms or tools required for work,
- Medical aides,
- Books necessary for education,
- Toys and child-related items.
Some items that Sheriffs can take are:
- DVD players
- CD players
- Electrical luxury goods
When someone comes to your door claiming to be a Sheriff Officer, ask for their identification. All Sheriff Officers should carry a red identity booklet with photo I.D and the crest of the Scottish court service. Sheriff Officers are obliged to show you their identification if you ask to see it.
A Sheriff Officer may be accompanied by a witness if you are being delivered legal papers. The witness will not be a sheriff officer and will not carry the same identification.
If you are still unsure whether the Sheriff Officer at your door is legitimate, ask which firm they represent and phone them to confirm the Sheriff’s identity.
If for any reason you think a Sheriff Officer has behaved in an unreasonable manner or exceeded their powers, then first write to the firm who employs the offending officer.
Alternatively, you can write to the Sheriff Principal at your local sheriff court.
The Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers also handles complaints. Its address is:Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers
8-12 Torphichen Street
Tel: 0131 228 2866