Should you be worried about Sheriff Officers?

Should you be worried about Sheriff Officers?

No, you shouldn't be, but nor should you ignore them.

In Scotland, even the mention of the phrase Sheriff Officers can strike fear into people. It conjures up images of people being evicted and of the poll tax. Often they are confused with Bailiffs, who work in other parts of the UK and feature on programmes like "If you don't pay, we'll take it away".

Should you ignore Sheriff Officers?

Sheriff Officers should not be ignored. They are Officers of the Court and as such have powers normal debt collectors don't. They occasionally will give you the impression they can do things they are not allowed to, but this is just to try and pressurise you into making offers of payment.

It's also not unusual for the language in their letters to be misleading. They will say they are visiting your home, and this may lead you to believe they can come into your home. This is almost never the case.

Their primary role, however, is to enforce the orders of the court, so if they have contacted you, you cannot ignore them.

How to deal with Sheriff Officers

The important thing is don't panic. Just because they state in a letter that they are coming  to your home, doesn't mean they will.  Nor does it mean they are going to come into your home, unless you invite them in.  Most likely they will want to hand you a legal letter or post it through your letter box.

Alternatively, they might try and speak to you and ask how you propose to deal with your debts.

The best thing to do is to seek advice from an advice agency, such as your local Citizen Advice Bureau and tell them this is what you are doing. Also tell them your adviser will be in touch with them with shortly.

Don't offer them  any information about yourself, at this point, such as your bank account details or where you work.  Wait until you have spoken to an adviser.  Don't invite them into your home. The chances are, they won't even ask..

Who are Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms?

Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms are not employed by public bodies, but by private firms.

It is important to note, it is not the private firms that are authorised by the Courts to enforce their orders, but the individual Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms.  It is also important to note they act with the authority of the Court, so if you prevent them from doing their job, you could be found in contempt of court.  This is a serious offence and can be punished by either a fine, or  in the worst cases, a prison sentence.

It is therefore, important you don't obstruct them when they are doing their job.  Instead be calm and polite and treat them the way you want them to treat you. .

Who regulates Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arm?

Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms are strictly regulated  and can only act to the extent they are allowed to by the court and the law.

This means, for example, should they try and force entry into someone's home, they must have the authority to do so.

In practice this means they must have an Exceptional Attachment Order. Where they do have one they will present it to you before trying to access your home. If your premises are empty, they may use a locksmith to open it, however, it must be emphasised this rarely happens and only in the worst cases.

Making a complaint about Sheriff Officers

If you do believe an Officer has exceeded their authority, or behaved in a manner which brings themselves, their profession or the Court into disrepute, you should make a complaint.

When making a complaint about a Sheriff Officer or a Messenger at Arms, you have two options:

What powers do Sheriff Officer have?

Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms normally enforce the payments of debts using an area of law known as diligence.  They are also involved in evictions and repossessions.

Sheriff Officers enforce the orders of the Sheriff Court, whilst Messenger at Arms enforce the orders of the Court of Session, which is Scotland's national civil court.

Most debts are recovered through the Sheriff Court, so it's usually sheriff officers who are involved in recovering debts (although in reality they are the same people)

Some examples of types of diligence that Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms can execute are:

How should a Sheriff Officer behave?

Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms should act in a polite and professional manner and be honest in their dealings with you. Their professional body has produced a Code of Practice. This is not an exhaustive set of rules that they must follow, nor does it prevent them from using their discretion, however, they should try an conduct themselves in the spirit of the code.

They should never perform their duties under the influence of alcohol or drugs and should always, when on duty, have a clean and professional appearance..

A Sheriff Officer should never refuse to provide you with identification if you request it.

Do Sheriff Officer firms always have the power of the Court?

In Scotland some firms who employ Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms, also act as debt collectors.  This is an additional service they offer and should not be confused with the functions of their employees as Court Officers.  When acting as debt collectors, Sheriff Officer firms have no additional power over those held by other firms involved in debt collection. They are not allowed to remove your property and cannot your arrest wages. They cannot enter your home without your permission.

What capacity are they working in?

These dual roles, however, can cause confusion, particularly as local Sheriff Officer firms are usually well known in local areas, so people often assume they are acting as Sheriff Officers or Messenger at Arms.

It is, therefore, important, when you are contacted by a sheriff officer firm to ask in what capacity they are acting, as Sheriff Officers or debt collectors.  The reason being, is if they are acting as debt collectors, then they have no legal powers to enforce a debt in the way they can as Sheriff Officers or Messenger at Arms. They can only ask you make a payment, telephone you or send you letters.

Complaining about Sheriff Officers when they are debt collectors

When Sheriff Officers act as debt collectors, they must follow guidance which is laid down by the Financial Conduct Authority, and regulates debt collection practices in the UK.

Sheriff Officers must never misrepresent their authority, as this would be a clear breach of their Code of Practice.

Where you have a complaint about a Sheriff Officer firm that is acting as debt collectors, the correct organisation to make any complaint to is not the Court or the Society of Sheriff Officers and Messenger at Arms, but the Financial Conduct Authority. Their complaint procedure can be found here.


  1. Peter

    I have a buy to let which was unlet and empty for a while. At the start of the new Tax year, 2019-2020, I looked into selling it and received an offer at the Start of May (4th or 5th) 2019 which was accepted. Due to a delay with lawyers on both sides, and a change in price, the keys were not exchanged until October. I had had a couple of demands for council tax from May to Sept for council tax which I duly paid. I then got a demand from Debt agency in October for the rest of the year’s council tax. (The way the sale of the house is structured, is, The buyer has paid a years upfront rent to me in Oct, when all final lawyers work was completed. The rest of the money for the property is paid in Oct 2020. )

    Knowing that the Buyer has all responsibility for bills from October 2019, I never pursued the letter from Stirling Park, demanding the rest of the year’s council tax.

    I never heard anything until, today 11th Feb 2020, when they turned up at my door to serve me with a notice to pay the outstanding money within the next 14 days. I did explain this to the sheriff officer (wish I had seen your site before this). Anyway, is it just a case of trying to sort this out with my local authority, will they put a stop to the sheriff officer’s actions or should I pay and then try and reclaim it back ?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Peter

      I would suggest speaking to the Local Authority first.

      Normally the owner is liable, but if there is a tenant in the property then they are normally liable. You will need to provide proof of the tenancy or agreement, otherwise as your name will not come off the Title Deeds until Ocotber 2020, they will presume your liable and pursue you.

      It is your responsibility to inform them who the tenant is if your don’t want them to hold you liable.

      If the property is vacant, then as your name is on the Land Registry, then the liability falls upon you. You may be entitled to a vacant property exemption, but you should speak to Local Authority about that.

  2. Dean

    I received a parking ticket at the Glasgow royal infirmary when my fiancé was in intensive care after a gas explosion at work.

    I parked in a space which the parking attendant told me I can’t park in but directed me to where I could park, he watched me park here and buy a ticket and display it on the windscreen.

    I then came back to a parking ticket.

    I have appealed this and got knocked back for an appeal. The original ticket was £90 which I didn’t have due to being on sick pay and now a year on from when it happened. My fiancé has lost his job and is on disability benefits.

    I got a letter from the court saying if I don’t pay £171 they will arrest my wages, arrest my bank account or auction of my movable property.

    This is obviously really concerning.

    I emailed before I got this letter explaining the situation and got ignored.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Dean

      I am not totally clear from what you have said what type of parking ticket you have received, but I am assuming it is a Penalty Charge Notice, issued by a local authority rather that a Parking Charge Notice issued by a private firm.

      Regardless of the type, you do say you have received appealed and this was unsuccessful and you have now been receiving letters from the Court.

      This means in reality it is too late to challenge the charge and the only option now is to try and pay it at a level you can afford, otherwise the person owed the money could take further action against you to recover the debt.

      If you are on Staturory Sick Pay (SSP), it unlikely an Earnings Arrestment will be successful, as although SSP is classed as earnings, it is usually not enough to be arrested. If you get contractual sick pay of a higher amount it could be arrested. They could also freeze your bank account, but the first £529.90 is protected. They can, however, take any amount over that up to the level of debt you have.

      They are not likely to try and enter your home as that would involve further legal action and is extremely rare.

      They may try and attach you car but if it subject to a Hire Purchase agreement, or PCP agreement, this will fail as the finance firm, not you, own the car. If you do own it, then it is protected if it is worth less than £3k and you have a reasonable requirement.

      If you are struggling to repay the charge, can I suggest you visit you local Citizen Advice Bureau or Local Authority Money Advice Service, as they will help negotiate for you.

  3. Alex


    I have recently seperated from my partner.

    We have accumulated council tax arrears that I have always paid through my bank to Scott and Co.

    Today I called them up to ask them if they could split the amount owed in two so I would pay my half and the rest would be left to my ex partner to pay, as I know I will be left, like always, paying off his debts and as I am no longer with him dont feel this is fair.

    I know he wont make any effort to make any payments.

    Scott and Co said they couldn’t do this that we would need to come to an arrangement between ourselves which won’t ever happen as I have left due to domestic abuse.

    If I dont make payments to them they only have my bank details and work history and threats of Arrestment of Earnings terrifies me.

    So I am having to make payments to them, which I dont mind as half of it is my debt and I am happy to pay that, but not my ex’s debt.

    would appreciate any advice you can give me on what else I can do, if anything.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Alex

      I am sorry to hear about your situation, but glad to hear you are at least putting it behind you.

      In terms of your Council Tax debt, you are both joint and severally liable for it.

      This means basically they can choose who to go after for the debt and can pursue you for the full amount if they choose to.

      Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about this. They can expect you to pay the full amount.

      However, this is not to say they cannot try and pursue him also, to recover the money faster. They will likely only do this if they know where he works or where his bank account is.

      In terms of you though, the important thing to do now that you are on your own, is make sure you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to, as your circumstances have now changed.

      There is a link to a benefit calculator on my website that you can use to check if there is any further help you are entitled to.

      In terms of your debt, can I suggest you speak to your local Citizen Advice Bureau or Local Authority Money Advice Service.

      You may not be able to avoid paying the Council Tax Arrears, but its important what you are paying is affordable and that you are also paying your current Council Tax and not just the Arrears, if not at present, from at least next April.

      Unfortunately, Sheriff Officers often just have you paying them and nothing towards your current bill, so every year you get another Summary Warrant and that is then passed to the Sheriff Officers, so you keep having to pay them and never get your feet clear.

      I hope this helps and hope you do contact your local advice centre to see if they can help negotiate an affordable repayment plan for you.

      1. Elizabeth


        Alex’s situation is exactly the same situation that I’m living.

        I’m trying to make them to contact him also, but I really don’t know how to do it.

        I went to council and they found an address that seems to be his address. They told me the will pass the information to Scott & Co and hopefully they will send him the letter with all the terms regarding the debt.

        I called Scott & Co, because the council told me to do it, to find out if they will try to reach him too, but they told me they wouldn’t.

        All that they tried to do is to ask for my personal details and I refused to give them any information.

        You have said above that they could try to go after him if they know his details, like where he works or where his bank account is.

        I know all this details, but how can I make them known to them?

        Thank you so much for your help,


        1. Elizabeth


          I just wanted to add that is not exactly the same situation.

          I paid my half the total amount we had to pay, he told me he had paid his half before he moved out, but I found out later on that he hadn’t. T

          he amount we owe now to Scott & Co, is just his half of the total.

          Thank you

          1. Scottish Adviser Post author

            Hi Elizabeth

            Unfortunately, the legal position is you are liable for the full amount along with your ex-partner and it is for the Council to decide who they pursue.

            It sounds to me like the Council are actually being helpful, but the Sheriff Officers are not. The reality is they are just interested in getting the money and they think they can pressurise you into paying it.

            However, its worth to note the Sheriff Officers act on behalf of the Council, so it may be worth taking this up with your local councilor and asking him if he can ask the Debt Recovery Department of the Council why their agents, the Sheriff Officers will not use the information that you are offering. This may make a difference.

            However, it is also worth noting that they are entitled to continue pursuing you, even if they do take the information, and I expect they will, so if you don’t come to an agreement with them, they can try and arrest your wages or freeze your bank account.

            If you do need advice you can contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau or ask if your Local Authority has a money advice Service.

            1. Elizabeth


              Thank you so much for your help.

              I got in contact with Scot & Co through email, explaining them the situation and offering them the possibility of giving them this person’s details.

              They have just replied and told me that he paid the whole amount a couple of days ago.

              Pressuring him about the consecuences (I told him they would arrest our bank accounts (both) and our wages) hashad a good result.

              I hope this is useful for whoever face a situation similar to mine.

              1. Scottish Adviser Post author

                Hi Elizabeth

                That is great, it will be a great weight off your mind and thank you for letting me know. I am glad I have been of some assistance.

  4. Sarah


    I had agreement set up with Scott & co for council tax arrears but direct debit failed last month due to new bank account and forgot to update. I have been in contact with Scott & co though and set up with new details, however sheriff officers came to door today when I wasn’t home. Do you know why this could be?
    Nearly 9 months pregnant so panicking a little especially since payment is set up!

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Sarah

      It could be for any number of reasons. If you have been home and they have not left any documents, then it may have just been a chase up visit, because you missed your payment.

      Wires may have got crossed and they may not have realised you have been in touch. Give them a call and just ask. It will put your mind at rest and let them know you are 9 months pregnant.

      If it is anything more serious, I don’t think it is, come back on and let me know.

  5. Alan

    I had sheriff officers at my partner’s home today, looking for me for an unpaid personal debt.

    I was just wondering how they could possibly suspect I lived there, as it’s not my place of residence.

    I only stay there now and again.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Alan

      Sheriff Officers aim to be as effective as they can for their customers, the creditors.

      They are private firms, so if they do their job well, they hope they can get more work.

      They are also executing Court Orders, so they are driven by a strong belief these orders should be implemented. They are professionals and highly driven people who take pride in doing their job well and I would say this, if you ever need a court order implemented, such as against a former employer who has not paid you your wages, you would want them to be like this.

      I can’t tell you how they knew. Have you ever used the address for any other purpose? Even as a temporary address? Could it be revealed from Social Media, or that you are in a relationship with your partner? Could they have found the address for her from the electoral register?

      Could they have spoke to your neighbours on the basis they wanted to confirm you still lived where you do and then maybe one has said you have a partner and where they lived?

      There is no way of knowing, it could have been a completely different source they had for the information, but they are good at it. It’s basically intelligence gathering and using that information to locate you.

      This is perfectly legal, even using social media, if you put information in the public domain. As long as they don’t tell people why they are looking for you or give people the impression they are someone they at not, what they are doing is allowed.

      Remember they are enforcing court orders, so the courts want their orders enforced, so Sheriff Officers can make reasonable enquiries.

  6. Andrew


    My previous employer is due my brother and I over £4000 in wages and holiday pay.

    We have went to a tribunal and won, but still not getting the money from our previous employer.

    Would you say it is worth getting a sheriff officer to try and get the money or do you think it would just be a waste of time?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author


      There is no easy answer to this. Much of it depends on who the order is against: your employer as an individual (was he a sold trader?); or his Company?

      This matters as this is the person you have a right to recover the money from.

      This also may restrict/ limit how you recover your debts.

      If your employer worked from home, it’s more difficult to send Sheriff Officers in to a home than it is to send them into business premises.

      And there is recovery procedures that can be used to seize money on business premises, but cannot be used in a home.

      I would suggest you think about what you know about your former employer or his Company.

      Where does he bank (bank arrestments)? When does he pay his staff (this is when he is most likely to have funds in his bank account)?

      Does he own cars, vehicles? Are these subject to finance agreements? If they are, it’s unlikely Sheriff Officers could take them.

      Does he keep cash on his business premises? Sheriff Officers could attempt a Money Arrestment.

      Does he get paid by someone else? Sometimes if someone is going to pay him money, Sheriff Officers can order the money is paid to them.

      The problem with Sheriff Officers is they charge fees and there is no guarantee they will be successful.

      However, if you don’t use them, your former employer just doesn’t need to pay you.

      Getting as much information about your former employer can help reduce the risk as the Sheriff Officers could suggest the procedure most likely to succeed.

      I would think about what you know and then contact the Sheriff Officers and ask if they would discuss your options with you.

  7. Derek


    We had an envelope that was addressed to a previous owner/occupier of our property (who sold it to us in March 2017) suggesting it contained a citation for the Sheriff Court (although the district of the court was not written in the space provided).

    I returned the envelope to the Edinburgh Sheriff Court who opened it and said that it had in fact been sent from Scott & Co (Edinburgh), and as they had opened it they said they would send it back to them as they did not deal with the contents of the letter.

    We have sent post back to Scott & Co previously on a “non known at this address” basis previously (as you can tell it is from them looking at the return address on the back).

    My concern is that despite the previous occupant not living here they will turn up looking to look for assets to recover the debt.

    Will they accept evidence that the previous occupant is not her so that they stop?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Derek

      I don’t think you have any thing to worry about, but there are a few steps you may want to take to be on the safe side.

      First make sure the electoral register is up to date and the previous occupant is still not listed at your address.

      Secondly, make sure the previous occupant is not linked to you or any other adults in your household on their credit reference file (they shouldn’t be, but sometimes this can happen and have a detrimental effect on your credit rating).

      You can do this by requesting a free statutory credit reference report (see here). If they are you just submit a Notice of Disassociation to the Credit Reference Agency (again for free) and they will remove the person and notify the other Credit Reference Agencies, so they can do the same.

      Finally, you may want to contact Scott and Co and bring it to their attention the person has moved, to avoid them coming out to your home. It is not your responsibility to tell them where the person moved to or to trace them.

      Sheriff Officers when they come to your home are reasonable people and are not likely to be trying to come into your home. This is a very rare procedure, called an Exceptional Attachment Order and only happens as a last resort.

      If Sheriff Officers do come to your door, just explain you purchased the property from the person they are seeking and provide them with proof of your identity.

      They should be fine with this and update their records. You do not need to give them any further information as you are not liable for this debt.

      If they continue to harass you, you can raise a complaint with them and take it to their professional body, The Society of Sheriff Officers and Messengers at Arms.

  8. James

    I had a citation put through my letterbox today trying to stop me taking my son out of Scotland, to move down to England.
    Because they recieved no answer from my door, they knocked on another five neighbours doors asking if I stayed there and was I home.
    The sheriff’s officers obviously know I lived there, as that’s why the sheriff’s clerk told them I stayed.
    Is this legal for the officers to be doing this?


    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Jimmy

      They are expected to make reasonable enquiries to ensure the Court paperwork is served properly.

      So, possibly asking neighbours if you live there or have they seen you, I think would be deemed reasonable.

      If you were not living there, for example, they would need to return the paperwork to the Sheriff Clerk, as the Sheriff may havd to order another mode of service to be used.

      What they shouldn’t do is tell your neighbours what it is about.

      Unfortunately, everyone thinks Sheriff Officers only deal with debt, but as you have found out they can be involved in serving a whole variety of Court paperwork for lots of different matters.

      I am pretty certain there would have been no intention to embarrass you. They will just have wanted to ensure you received the paperwork.

  9. Karen


    I’ve just had Sheriff Officers at my door with a Charge for Payment of Money for a 13 year old council tax debt from my previous residency.

    What will I do. I live on my own and on benefits. I refused to give them bank account details when asked.

    I would appreciate an early reply as I suffer from depression and acute anxiety

  10. R Fitzpatrick


    I was served with a divorce settlement by Sheriff Officers. The only thing is I do not live at property address that is on the document and part of my name is wrong.

    Can they take my friends stuff?

    We were also married but divorced in 2012, but remain friends.

    I have my own house which I own.

    She stays in council house with her daughter.

    They can have my house, I don’t care, as the bank owns it.

    I own nothing

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author


      What you are asking about is a matter of Family Law, which I don’t deal with.

      I can tell you there are strict rules regarding service of documents by Sheriff Officers, but I could not tell you if how they have served the documents in your case is correct.

      You would need to speak to a solicitor, preferably one that specialises in Family Law.

  11. Tam


    I am in the social bite village for homelesss people.

    I have been served with a notice to quit by a sherriff officer, that wasn’t actually served on me.

    Two members of staff signed for it, then gave it to me when I came home.

    I refused to accept it as it wasn’t served on me.

    I wasn’t given a letter to tell me I was going to recieve this.

    The excuse they used for it was they said I vandalised the property.

    They also said I intimidated another member.

    I am wondering were I stand regarding the letter they served on me, as it wasnt actually handed to me.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Tam

      I am sorry to hear about your situation.

      I have edited some of your comment, as I think you should speak with a housing solicitor before giving any explanations.

      I am not familiar with the type of tenancy agreements that are used in the Social Bite Village, but as Sheriff Officers served you an eviction notice, I am assuming your case did go to Court. If this was the case and you were not represented and did not appear, it may be you may be able to get this eviction notice recalled.

      In terms of the serving of the Notice of Eviction, this is served by Sheriff Officers and normally they can serve it by leaving it at your place of residence. Whether giving it to staff at the Social Bite Village is proper service from a technical point of view, I am not sure. If it wasn’t given to you personally by the Sheriff Officer or left at your place of residence, I am doubtful whether it is. This is a more technical argument and if you can get a recall this would be a better course of action.

      Can I ask you give Shelter a call tomorrow? They are the experts on this stuff and can give you proper advice and possibly even provide you with assistance in recalling the eviction if possible.

      You can call them on their Helpline on 0808 800 4444 or chat online with them here.

  12. Elaine


    I wonder if you can advise.

    I have received a change of payment letter from Scott and Co on behalf of The city council re council tax arrears.

    I have a wage arrestment at the moment which has been running for the last few months.

    The debt outanding on that is £2,700.

    The letter I have received is £4,000 as this years council tax has been added, plus a charge.

    I am about to phone them to try and make an agreement to pay more outwith the wage arrestment, if I can, as I want this resolved too.

    Do you think this would be acceptable?

    Quite worried as have young children, as to what they can do.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Elaine

      You can call them and offer more money, in addition to the Earning Arrestment. I am sure they will happily come to an agreement with you.

      I would suggest, however, first you seek debt advice from your local Citizen Advice Bureau or Local Authority Money Advice Service.

      My concern is out of fear you offer them too much, as that is what much of their tactics are about, and in future you continue to fail to pay your current Council Tax to your Local Authority. This means you will get more Summary Warrants and 10% surcharges added to your debt. You will also end up in a vicious cycle of just paying the Sheriff Officers.

      What would be better is if you get help to draft a full income and expenditure and look at all your financial obligations, to see what you can afford and what is the best solution for you.

      In terms of what they can do, they cannot arrest your wages twice, so what they are taking is the most they can take. They can arrest your bank account, but they need to leave £529.90 in your account. They can try and attach your car, if you have one, but if it is worth less than £3,000 and you have a reasonable requirement for it, it should be protected. If it is subject to a Hire Purchase, Conditional Sale or PCP agreement, they will not be able to attach it, as legally it is still owned by the finance company.

      If you are worried about them coming into your home, they need another order called an Exceptional Attachment Order. These are relatively rare and there has to a further court hearing, so I would not worry about that.

      They could also try and make you Bankrupt and that is more a concern, particularly if you are home owner.

      Without knowing all your circumstances, I would suggest you may want to look at the Debt Arrangement Scheme. This has many benefits, namely:

      It would protect you from everything above;
      It would lift the earning arrestment;
      You only make one payment per month;
      You can include all your debts into it, including credit cards and loans.

      It would also ensure next year you can set up a direct debit to pay your current Council Tax to your Local Authority and just pay your arrears through the Debt Arrangement Scheme. You would break the vicious cycle of debt.

      You can get help to apply to the Debt Arrangement Scheme from your Local Citizen Advice Bureau or Council.

  13. Michael


    My partner ran up debts on my cards without my knowledge over 6 years ago.

    We split and I moved overseas.

    My brother lives at the property and sent all mail back for me as “return to sender” as I didn’t live there.

    A solicitors letter has now arrived and on a Google check of the address I saw it was a debt law firm.

    If there is a CCJ against me, I no longer live at the property and am untraceable what can they do?

    I have huge health issues and haven’t worked for several years, so have no money.

    The house though is the family property.

    The debts were credit card debts and an unsecured loan.

    What should I do?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Michael

      I would suggest you could first get a credit check done for yourself. You can do this for free (see here).

      This should show whether you have a court order against you (if you were previously residing in Scotland, it would be known as a decree, rather than a CCJ).

      In terms of the debt, it really depends what stage things are at. If they have obtained a decree against you, you won’t be able to argue the debt is statute barred in Scotland under the 5 year rule, as the running of the prescription period will have been interrupted when they got the court order.

      Even if they have not got a court order, the debt may still not be statute barred as prescription only begins running when the default notice is served (another good reason to get a credit report run, as you will see when the debt went into default).

      The basic rule is in Scotland is prescription begins running after the debt goes into default (see here)and if the prescription is not interrupted, then after 5 years the debt becomes statute barred, so is no longer recoverable.

      However, if the 5 years is not up yet, they may want to obtain a court order to stop the debt becoming statute barred (if they haven’t already got one).

      If they get a decree and the debt is for more than £3k, ultimately you could be made bankrupt (even in your absence); and in Scotland if you cannot be located, you will not be discharged until they find you. So in theory, it can, be kept open for the rest of your life.

      Also you mention your house. I am assuming this is a bought home and you are the owner (or joint owner).

      Ultimately if there is equity in it, the Trustee in Bankruptcy could try sell it. He can get a court order to do so.

      Even if you are not made bankrupt, the creditor, if they get a Court Order, could place an inhibition on you, preventing your house being sold until the debt is paid.

      It is also worth mentioning if they get a Court Order, the judicial rate of interest is 8% per annum. So the debt will be increasing.

      Ultimately, it may be the debt is statute barred, but if they raise a court action and you are not there (or represented) in court, they will likely get decree.

      The point is, not engaging with this issue is not a solution, particularly if you have a house still here in the UK.

      I would get the credit check done first.

      See if they have a decree and when the debt went into default. Hopefully, they have not got a court order and you can argue the debt is statute barred.

  14. Luke


    I am seeking advice on behalf of my father who today received a letter from Glasgow Sheriff Court for the payment of £1811.09 in council tax arrears to be paid within fourteen days to Scott and Co., Glasgow. My father was off work sick for three months last year but has made an arrangement with Scott and Co. in which he pays £170 per month at the post office which covers current council tax plus a token payment of roughly £30 towards his arrears. He has the receipts for all of his payments which are paid at the end of each month, and he has been diligent in paying this, with a Scott and Co. payment card, as he was scared of something like this happening. I would just like to ask if there is any precedence for something like this and if the Sheriff Officer is allowed to do something like this even though my father has made an arrangement to pay off his arrears and has stuck to it, with receipts as proof. The letter he received mentions further action being taken if he does not pay the full amount in two weeks such as arrest, arrestment of earnings, and the attachment and auction of articles belonging to him, but surely this must be some kind of clerical error if he has been paying the money and has receipts. I am also worried as I am a student living with my dad and am concerned about how this will affect us. I am going to phone the Citizens’ Advice Bureau tomorrow but would greatly appreciate any advice you can offer us.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Luke

      No problem.

      Can you check the letter your Father has received from the Court. Does it say Summary Warrant on it?

      1. Luke


        Thank you for your speedy reply, yes the letter says summary warrant on it.

        1. Scottish Adviser Post author

          Hi Luke

          That is reassuring. A Summary Warrant is issued by Local authorities when you fall into arrears with your Council Tax. They then add a 10% surcharge onto your bill. It is issued by the Sheriff Court and has the effect of a court order.
          The reason I say it is good is my fear is it was a Charge for Payment, as they need to serve that before they can arrest wages, attach cars or freeze bank accounts.
          I suspect this may be for this year 2019-20, as I think what may be happening is your Father is under the impression that he is paying his current Council Tax to Scott & Co, but they don’t collect current Council Tax until it goes to the Summary Warrant stage.
          This is a common problem. Sheriff Officers get people to prioritise their arrears to the expense of their current Council Tax and it becomes a vicious circle. Your Dad keeps paying everything to Scott & Co and every year he goes into arrears with his current Council Tax which goes to the Summary Warrant stage and gets 10% added. He never gets out of arrears.
          What you thought should be happening, is what should happen.
          He should pay his current Council Tax to the Council and a smaller amount (what he can afford) to Scott & Co.
          The best way for him to get this sorted and look at all his options is to go to his local money advice service (local authority or Citizen Advice Bureau).
          Hopefully he can do this and get it sorted out soon, but if he gets a Charge for Payment, he needs to get advice ASAP.
          I may be wrong, but £1,800 sounds like a full years Council Tax and as that would have started in April, it sounds like he hasn’t been making the payments to the Council Tax, but the Sheriff Officers. Very common problem and Sheriff Officers don’t explain this very well.

          1. Luke


            Thank you for your advice. I have to say I actually misread the letter and it is a charge of payment, though it said this in small print at the top. I am going to call the citizens’ advice bureau tomorrow on my dad’s behalf and see what they can do to help. I am just disgusted that the Sheriff’s Office would do something like this as this is the first letter my dad has received this year about council tax – he never received anything else from the city council etc asking why he wasn’t paying council tax, if Scott and Co. have just been funnelling the money into paying for arrears. I am disappointed at the lack of transparency and their behaviour as according to my dad, when he spoke to a Scott and Co supervisor, he was assured they would pay £150 of what he paid for his current council tax and the rest of the payment would go to arrears.

            1. Scottish Adviser Post author

              Hi Luke

              That is bad form by Scott & Co. especially as your Father has an agreement in place and is paying it.

              Legally, there is nothing to stop them serving a Charge for Payment, however, they should not do this whilst your Father has an agreement in place and is paying the agreed amount.

              Not least because the cost of the Charge will be added to his debt as a fee.

              Sheriff Officers never collect current Council Tax until it has went beyond the Summary Warrant stage.

              What should have happened is your Father should have set up a direct debit with the Council to pay his current Council Tax at the beginning of the financial year and then negotiated an amount towards the arrears separately with the Sheriff Officers. This should have been based on affordability and took into consideration that he was paying the Council this year’s tax.

              By just paying everything to the Sheriff Officers they would just have been crediting the arrears account and the Council will have not been receiving this year’s Council Tax. So it would be about this time have it would went to the Summary Warrant stage and been passed to Scott & Co for recovery. So now they have another years Council Tax to collect.

              Truly appalling, if this is what has happened, but very common, unfortunately.

              In terms of the Charge, speak with the Citizen Advice Bureau and try and get an appointment to speak to an adviser. Your Father will have to go, but you can accompany him if he wants.

              The Charge expires after 14 days, so they can take enforcement action after that.

              If you are worried about the enforcement action, speak to the Citizen Advice Bureau about whether your Father should register a Statutory Moratorium.

              This protects you Father from the Sheriff Officers for 6 weeks and is free to apply for. He can use it only once in any 12 month period, so he doesn’t want to use it unless he has to.

              Ideally if he can see the Citizen Advice Bureau adviser before the Charge for Payment expires that is best.

              If they think he should use the Statutory Moratorium, your best not using it until the day before the Charge expires to get the full benefit of the 6 weeks, as they cannot do anything until the Charge expires.

              1. Scottish Adviser Post author

                Hi Luke

                Can I just add, having re-read the original question, your Father cannot be arrested, (this is a wholly civil matter), and it is not likely to damage you or his credit score, as Council’s don’t share this information with Credit Reference Agencies.
                Also there is no to little chance of them using an Exceptional Attachment Order and trying to come into you home to seize goods.
                Also you say you are a Student.
                Do you live alone with your Father? Have you checked whether he is entitled to and receiving a Single Person Discount of 25%?
                This can be backdated, possibly to you becoming a student.

  15. Rachel

    I have had sheriff officers at my door for unpaid electricity from a previous property.

    It’s for £800, but we are on disability benefits and can barely make ends meet as it is ( hence the debt in the first place).

    Is there much they can do we don’t have any items that they could seize as we only own essential items.

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Rachel

      Thanks for coming on.

      I will deal with the issue of the Sheriff Officers first.

      They have a number of options.

      First, they can execute an Earnings Arrestment, but if neither you or your partner are working, that won’t succeed.

      They can Attach items outside your home, but the most likely thing they could go after is a car.

      However, if it is subject to a Hire Purchase agreement, or is a Mobility car, they won’t be able to take it, as you don’t own it.

      If you do own it, then providing you can show you have a reasonable requirement for it (your disability?), then you can argue it’s exempt from attachment.

      You should seek advice about this (see below).

      They can try and arrest your bank account, but again this will only succeed if the amount in your account is more than £529.90.

      They cannot take anything below that figure as it is protected.

      If they take anything over that and all your income is benefits, you can challenge them, but you should seek advice (also see my page on challenging bank arrestments).

      They cannot come into your home, as they would need an Exceptional Attachment Order. These are extremely rare.

      Also you can see here, there is very little they can take.

      What I would suggest is you seek advice from your Local Authority Money Advice Service or contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau.

      Lots of Energy Firms operate hardship funds and you may qualify for a grant that can help pay this debt off.

      Alternatively, they will help you negotiate with the Sheriff Officers and the Energy Firm.

      You can find details of you local Citizen Advice Bureau here, or your Local Council here.

      1. Rachel


        Can they touch savings accounts in my children’s names as they have over that amount?

        That is their money from birthdays and Christmas, not ours.

        1. Scottish Adviser Post author

          Hi Rachel

          No they cannot arrest your kid’s accounts, providing the accounts are in your children’s name.

          It’s okay that you or your partner are the signatories on the accounts, as long as the accounts are in your children’s name.

          Do you know if they have a court order against you, called a decree in Scotland?

          It’s just sometimes Sheriff Officers also work as debt collectors and don’t have the same powers they have when they work as Sheriff Officers.
          If they are just working as debt collectors, all they can do is ask for the money nothing else.

          If they have a decree, they could try and arrest your bank account or serve a Charge for Payment (and after the Charge the other things I mentioned above).

          They can arrest your bank account if they have a decree, even if they have not served a Charge, but the other diligences I mentioned above require a Charge to be served first.

          Diligence is the legal term used to describe the legal enforcement procedures (as mentioned above), that only Sheriff Officers can use.

          1. Rachel


            Yes they have a decree.

            The other thing I want to check, as I wouldn’t want it to effect this, I am treasurer for my local community council. I am on their business account.

            Will they be able to touch that as it’s not my money?

            1. Scottish Adviser Post author

              Hi Rachel

              No they won’t as you are just a signatory and the account is in the name of the Community Council.

              Thankfully, the debt is only £800, so they cannot sequestrate you (make you bankrupt), as the Debt would need to be over £3,000. That would affect that.

              Speak to your local advice agency, as you do need to address this debt, but clearly don’t have the means at present.

              There is a good possibility you may be able to access a hardship fund and get some help to paying it off.

  16. Maureen


    I was at court seeking declarator for damage done to a fire surround that was proven in court.

    I was awarded £424.00 and he had twenty eight days to pay.

    He hasn’t done so, so it is now in the hands of Sheriff Officers, who intend to go to his house, but I think he has moved in the last two days or has moved some of his belongings out.

    Can you advise, as I have no clue where he has moved to or what happens next?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Maureen

      Unfortunately, getting a Court Order is just the first part of recovering a debt and usually the hard part is getting the person to pay.

      I am guessing the Sheriff Officers were just going to go to his house to give him a copy of the decree or serve on him a Charge for Payment, which is a formal demand for payment.

      To enter his home an additional court order is required called an Exceptional Attachment Order, and can only be applied for after you have tried to arrest his bank account or arrest his wages.

      Even if you get an Exceptional Attachment Order, so much is protected in his home (see here), so it is not always a very effective way to recover a debt.

      You can try attaching his car if he owns one, build he can possibly avoid this if he has got it on finance, as it will belong to the finance firm.

      If you know where he works or banks, this may be useful to the Sheriff Officers, but other than that, there is not alot more you can do.

      Speak with the Sheriff Officers and ask their advice, as they do this every day for a living, but remember there can be costs in trying to recover a debt, as the Sheriff Officers have fees and if you are not successful, you could be throwing good money after bad.

  17. Paul


    I’ve had sheriff Officers turn up at an address I moved out of a year ago.

    A neighbour sent me a text and told me. I don’t know what to do?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi Paul

      I am sorry.

      I always try and put myself in other people’s shoes and my first instinct would be to worry and not want to go near them.

      However, here is the problem with that from my experience. If this is for Council Tax, it is not going to go away, as local authorities can try and recover the debt for up to 20 years.

      Also, you have said you moved out? Do the Local Authority know that? If it was for Council Tax and they didn’t know, your bill may be higher than it should be. They will usually adjust the bill to reflect you moved out if you can provide them with proof that you moved out.

      It may be the best place to start is the Local Authority. Ask if they are aware you moved out and if not what Sheriff Officers they use? Also how much do you owe?

      If it’s not the Local Authority for Council Tax are you aware of any other debts? There are usually only a couple of different Sheriff Officer firms in your area. The one the Council use are probably the main one. If it is not them, maybe your neighbour caught their name?

      Ultimately, I think, my view is you are best getting to the bottom of this and dealing with it. It won’t go away, and may be a mistak. If the Local Authority weren’t aware you moved out, it may be an opportunity to clarify somethings and reduce your liability for Council Tax.

      Hope this helps and please fee free to come back on.

  18. David


    I have had a Sheriff Officer at my door who handed me a letter that says they can remove me from my own home, which I own.

    I was made bankrupt in 2010.

    Can they throw me out?

    1. Scottish Adviser Post author

      Hi David.

      I am sorry to hear this, especially at this time of year.

      Sheriff Officers are used to evict people from their homes when courts grant orders. This is normally for rent and mortgage arrears, but can also happen when someone has been made bankrupt.

      This is because when you are sequestrated in Scotland (made bankrupt), your home, where you own it vests with your Trustee in Bankruptcy.

      They have a duty to realise any equity in your home for the benefit of your creditors. In the worst case scenario, this can mean selling your home.

      The Trustee can do this even after you have had a discharge, as his interest in your home can continue beyond this point.

      I cannot advise you on your particular circumstances, however, it sounds like your Trustee may have obtained an order of ejection to remove you from your home and he wants to sell it.

      I would suggest you treat this seriously and get advice as quickly as possible from a law centre, if there is one close to you, or from a local solicitor.

      Alternatively call the Shelter Housing Helpline on 0808 800 4444

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