A sheriff officer is someone who can come to your house or workplace to serve you court papers and carry out court orders for the sheriff court.
They can carry out court orders for:
- property arguments
- family matters (like adoption or divorce)
They can also carry out orders to:
- remove members of your family from your house (like an abused child or violent partner)
- deliver a witness citation or other legal documents to you, if the court needs proof they were delivered
Checking an officer's identity
You have the right to ask for a sheriff officer's identity if they come to your home or workplace.
Every sheriff officer has a red identity booklet which contains:
- a photograph of themselves
- the crest of the Scottish court service
- the signature of the sheriff clerk for the area they work in
A sheriff officer must show you their identity booklet if you ask for it.
If you still aren't sure they are who they say they are, you can ask for the name of the firm they work for and call them to check.
Entering your home or business
A sheriff officer has the power to enter your home or workplace to carry out their order, but only if the court gives them permission to do it.
You can ask the sheriff officer to show you the document that says they're allowed to enter.
It might not always be clear from the document that the sheriff officer has the right to enter your home. It might have a phrase like "grants warrant for all lawful execution" on it – this means they're allowed to enter.
For evictions and debt enforcement a sheriff officer usually has to write to you in advance to tell you they are coming.
They're usually not allowed to come at night, unless they have a warrant that lets them enter if someone is in danger or a child has to be removed for their protection.
If a sheriff officer has permission from the court to enter your home or workplace but you don't let them in, they are allowed to use 'necessary reasonable force' to get in.
This means they're allowed to get in by:
- forcing open a door
- breaking a lock
- breaking a window
If you try to stop the officer entering your house or workplace, you could be charged with breach of the peace.
If nobody's in
If you aren't at home or your workplace when a sheriff officer visits, they can only force entry if they're:
- carrying out an eviction
- making sure certain work has been carried out
- getting back property
If you owe a debt, the court may decide that some of your belongings may be taken and sold to help pay it.
When this happens, the sheriff officer might be given 'exceptional attachment', which means they have permission to enter your home or workplace and take some of your possessions.
Sheriff officers can only seize non-essential items. This means they can't seize possessions that are seen as essential for everyday life, for example clothing, beds, sofas, computers and cookers. These are listed in Schedule 2 of the Debt Arrangement and Attachment (Scotland) Act 2002
A sheriff officer has to tell you in advance if they're coming to take possessions with exceptional attachment.
Although they can force entry into your home or workplace, they can't take anything if nobody is in the property.
They also can't take anything if there's someone in the property but they:
- are under 16 years old
- can't speak or understand English
- don't understand the situation because of physical or mental disability
If the court orders you to be evicted, a sheriff officer can be sent to your home to evict you.
The sheriff officer must officially give you advance notice that they're coming to your home to evict you. You should get at least 2 weeks' notice.
If the sheriff officer comes to your home to evict you and you refuse to leave, they have permission to physically remove you from your home.
If you struggle with the sheriff officer or try to stop them evicting you in some way, you could be charged for breach of the peace.
A sheriff officer may bring the police with them when they come to evict you. The police can't help the sheriff officer carry out the eviction, but they can arrest you if you break the law (for example, by causing a breach of the peace or attacking the sheriff officer).
Complaining about a sheriff officer
If you think a sheriff officer behaved in an unreasonable way or did things they didn't have the power to do, you should first write to the officer or the firm that employs them and ask for an explanation.
If you aren't happy with the reply (or you don't want to complain directly to the officer) you can make a written complaint to the Sheriff Principal, who can arrange for an investigation to be carried out.
You can contact the Sheriff Principal through the sheriff clerk at your local sheriff court.
You can also complain to the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers, which covers the whole of Scotland. Its address is:
Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers
28 Rutland Square
You can call them on 0131 292 0321 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting money and debt advice
If you have problems with money or debt, read our help with money guide for information on where to get advice.
If you have problems with business debt, are facing bankrupty or your business is owed money, visit our business debt and bankruptcy section.