Sheriff Information

A sheriff is an individual who has been given special powers by the courts to collect unpaid debts. In the rest of the UK, they are known as bailiffs, however a Scottish sheriff has fewer powers.
Sheriffs are employed to carry out the work of both local authorities, government organisations and private firms such as solicitors.
The main function of a sheriff is to enforce a court order. These could include:

  • Evicting you
  • Collecting a debt
  • making a change to property following a dispute
  • Issuing legal papers

It is important to realise that sheriffs are not the same as the police and they do not hold the same powers. Sheriffs only have the power to enforce court orders, but this can include detaining individuals or removing them from properties, if the court order requires it.

Sheriff Officers can potentially enter into yyour home, but they would require a court order that grants them the power to do so.

If you are the subject of a home visit from a sheriff, then it is essential that you ask to see the court order documentation that they are enforcing.  Unfortunately these documents are often very complicated and as such, it can be difficult to determine whether or not the sheriff has the authority to enter your home or not.

In these circumstances, you should look for a phrase like grants warrant for all lawful execution. 

If there is any doubt, then call the sheriff officer firm that has sent its officers to your home for clarification.

If a sheriff officers has been granted the correct authority to enter your home, and you refuse them entry, then they are able to use reasonable force to gain entry to your home. This can include forcing a door open or breaking a window or lock. You could also be charged with a breach of the peace order for obstructing an officer of the court.

If a lock or window is broken and needs replacing, then the cost of this will be covered by the company who is pursuing the court order e.g. the creditor.

If a sheriff officer arrives at your home when you are not there, then they can still enter your home using force. This action would only be appropriate if the sheriffs were:

  • Evicting you
  • Making sure work has been carried out, like chages to the property
  • Recovering property (this is not the same as seizing property in order to cover a debt).

If sheriff are at your property to seize goods in order to sell them to cover a debt, then this cannot be done without someone being present.

The individual present would have to be:

  • Over 16 years of age 
  • Speaks English
  • Is mentally capable of understanding what is happening. 

A Sheriff Officer should  normally write to you to inform you that they are coming to your home, however there are some exceptions to this.

  • If you are being evicted, then you should be given 14 days from the date of the court decree to leave the property. If you don’t then you should be given a minimum of 48 hours after this to leave before you will be forcibly evicted by a sheriff officer.
  • If you are being pursued for debt, then the sheriffs can only visit between 8am and 8pm. They cannot come on a a Sunday or on a public holiday.
  • If the sheriffs have been ordered to check if someone is in danger or if a child needs to be removed from a home setting, then no notice needs to be given. The visit could also take place at any time during the night and would normally include the police being present.

Sheriffs can take items that are considered luxury or non-essential for example:

  • Televisions
  • Games Consoles/Computer equipment
  • Jewellery
  • Vehicles that you own and are on your property

They cannot take items that are considered essential for living such as:

  • Clothing
  • Cooking equipment or items
  • Work tools with a value of under £1350
  • Items belonging to other people (you may be required to prove this)

During their first visit, they will usually compile a list of items they wish to seize, without actually taking them.

When sheriffs arrive at your door, they should identify themselves. If they don’t then you should always demand that they do so. All sheriffs should carry an idenfication booklet, which is often red in colour. This booklet should contain photo ID and a crest of the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service.

It is worth noting that, if you are being served with legal papers, then there should also be a witness who comes along with the Sheriff. Their ID will be different to that of the Sheriff’s.

If you are concerned about the idenfication of the Sheriffs, then you can ask them for the phone number of the firm they represent, or Google it to acquire it yourself. Contact the office to confirm the Sheriffs are who they say they are.

The most important thing to realise is that you should not simply avoid your debt or use more credit to pay your debts.

There is still time to seek help and begin to deal with your debt properly. A Trust Deed can be a great way of clearing your debts. Read through our Trust Deed page to find out more.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Wage Arrestment or Earning Arrestment is the most common way for Local Authorities in Scotland to recover council tax debt. It is similar to an Attachment of Earnings in the rest of the UK.

Administered via a court order, Wage Arrestment requires an individual’s employer to deduct money from wages, in order for that money to be used to pay council tax debt. The deduction is taken from a person’s net wages, so once tax and national insurance is taken from your gross wage, a further amount is subtracted to pay the debt.

There are some rules that determine whether someone is eligible for a Wage Arrestment. The clearest one is that you must be employed. Along with this the following also applies:

  • You must not be on any unemployment benefits
  • You must not be a serving member of the armed forces
  • Your debt must be greater than £50.

It’s worth noting that, if you have a Wage Arrestment issued to you, then it would need to be administered by your employer, therefore they will be informed of the situation. Some employers will charge a further administration fee of £1 to cover the extra work required to administer the Arrestment.

In some instances, for example if you have a job in the financial sector, you may even be subject to disciplinary action. In this event you could be entitled to have the Wage Arrestment suspended. 

If you find yourself in debt to your local authority then the following steps will usually be taken:


If you fall into arrears with your council tax then, in the first instance, you will be sent a reminder informing you that you have approximately 7 days to pay. 

Final Notice to Pay

If you fail to catch up with your payments, then the next step your council will take is to remove your right to pay in instalments. 

This means that your next reminder will be not just for the payment you missed, but for the entire remaining balance for the year. This will usually give you 14 days to pay.

At this stage, if you wish to continue paying in instalments, you would need to contact your local authority directly.

Summary Warrant

If, at this stage, you are still unable to pay your outstanding council tax, Then the local authority is able to apply for a summary warrant. This is a certificate that states the amount of debt you owe. It is issued by the Sheriff Court.

It is likely that the first you will learn of your local authority’s application for the Summary Warrant will be you receiving it in the post. The Council is not obliged to inform you of the application.

Once this Summary Warrant has been issued, you will no longer be required to pay the local authority, but instead any payments made will be straight to the Sheriff.

This process often incurs a 10% penalty fee which will be added to your overall debt.

Debt Repayment Plan

Once your Summary Warrant has been issued, you will have an opportunity to negotiate a repayment plan. 

Advice on Charge for Payment

If you fail to come to an agreement for a Debt Repayment Plan, then the Sheriff Officer will ask you for the following details:

  • Details of you current employer, including their name and address.
  • Your National Insurance number.
  • Your bank account details
  • Details of any other indiviuals who are liable to pay council tax with you.

You will be given 14 days to provide this information. If you fail then you will be subject to a further fine, which will be applied to the overall debt.

Earnings Arrestment

Once the 14 day period has expired, the Sheriff Officer will have the right to recover the debt directly from your wages.

There is no set formula for calculating how much of your earnings will be taken, but it will often depend on how much you earn.

At this stage you may want to consider applying for a debt solution, for example a Trust Deed or Debt Arrangement Scheme