Sheriff officers

​What is a sheriff officer?

A sheriff officer is an officer of the court. They either work for a firm of sheriff officers or they are self-employed.

Sheriff officers act on behalf of organisations you owe money to (your creditors) by:

  • delivering legal paperwork; and
  • taking steps to enforce a court order against you.

What can sheriff officers do?

A sheriff officer's rights depend on the type of diligence they are taking against you. Diligence is a technical term for debt enforcement in Scottish law.

In most cases, sheriff officers have the power to force entry to your business premises. This can make it difficult to negotiate.

However, in most cases, sheriff officers do not have the power to force entry to where you live. Remember, sheriff officers are not the same as the police. They act to enforce existing court orders and they cannot put you in prison automatically for not paying a debt.

The main types of diligence are listed below.

  • Bank arrestment. This is an order which freezes money in your business or personal bank account.
  • Earning arrestment. If you are employed, this order instructs your employer to make regular deductions from your wages which are paid to the creditor.
  • Attachment of property outside your home. This means that a sheriff officer will try and take things to sell you own outside your home. They cannot break into your home, although they can force entry to locked garages.


breaking in

Sheriff officers can break into business premises. If they threaten to do this at your business premises, contact us for advice.

  • Attachment of property inside your home (exceptional attachment order). An ‘exceptional attachment order’ is where a sheriff officer seizes property inside your home. This should be a last resort and the creditor would have to apply to the sheriff court before they can do this.


How can I stop diligence?

There may be different ways of trying to stop a creditor using diligence against you. For example, you may be able to apply to the sheriff court for an order which stops most types of diligence and allows you to pay the debt by affordable instalments. This type of order is called a ‘time to pay direction’, or a ‘time to pay order’.

Complaints about sheriff officers

If you are unhappy with the way a sheriff officer has behaved, or if you think they have gone beyond their legal powers, you can complain.

  • Put your complaint in writing to the sheriff officer or the firm that employs them.
  • If you are unhappy with their response, you can complain in writing to the Sheriff Principal. You can find out how to contact the Sheriff Principal through your local sheriff court.