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Debt Collectors vs Sheriff Officers: what’s the difference?

Sharon McDougall - Updated - 8th May 2024 - 4 minutes to read

If you have fallen behind in your debt repayments to creditors, you may find yourself visited by a Sheriff Officer or debt collector looking to recover the money you owe. While these are terms that are often used interchangeably, there is in fact a difference between a debt collector and a Sheriff Officer and it is important to know which one you have been visited by as this will help you plan your next move.

What is the difference between a Sheriff Officer and a debt collector?

The key difference between a debt collector and a Sheriff Officer comes down to who has appointed them to recover the debt owed. Sheriff Officers are appointed by the court, while debt collectors are instructed by a lender to recover debts that they have been unsuccessful in collecting themselves. This distinction between the two is hugely important as it dictates what actions they can and cannot take when collecting money owed.

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What action can Sheriff Officers and debt collectors take against me?

As Sheriff Officers are court-ordered they have legal standing and therefore greater powers when it comes to employing collection tactics. They are able to enter your home using reasonable force and remove items should this be deemed necessary. Despite this, there are restrictions on what Sheriff Officers can take which prevents them removing ‘essential goods’.

Debt collectors, however, have no such power; they are not allowed to enter your home nor take your possessions. Although debt collectors do not have the same legal standing as a Sheriff Officer, you must still take a visit from one seriously. Ignoring a debt collector will not make the situation go away and will often push them to take further action against you.

What should I do if I am visited by a debt collector?

Your first step is to establish that you actually owe the money they are chasing you for by asking for proof of the debt. This will not only verify that the debt is legitimate but will also show the fees and interest which are likely to have been added to your balance. If they cannot provide you with proof of the debt then it is unenforceable and you are within your right to ask to have this written off.

Once the legitimacy of the debt has been established, you can attempt to negotiate a payment plan should you not be in a position to clear the amount owed in full immediately. While negotiations may take place in person or over the telephone, you should always ask for this to be put in writing before you begin making the agreed payments.

What should I do if I am visited by a Sheriff Officer?

As a Sheriff Officer has the power of the law on their side, they may begin the process of removing goods from your home if you are unable to pay them to amount you owe. This can be hugely distressing for yourself along with other members of your household. However, there is a way to prevent this but you must ask quickly.

Sheriff Officers will issue you with a document known as a ‘Charge to Pay’ or ‘Charge for Payment’. This may be hand delivered to you in person or else sent via recorded delivery to your home address. This letter demands that you make full payment of the amount you owe within 14 days. If you are in the position to pay this amount then it is highly advisable that you do. If you simply do not have the funds then you should call your creditor immediately to try and come to some sort of arrangement as to how you will pay this debt.

Fail to do this and the Sheriff Officer will gain more power, and this could well lead to them being able to enter your home and seize your valuables. Alternatively they could obtain an attachment of earnings which would see money being taken directly from your wages in order to pay towards your debt.

How Scotland Debt Solutions can help

If you have been visited by either a debt collector or a Sheriff Officer, this is a sign that your debt problems are becoming more serious and expert help is likely to be useful at this stage. At Scotland Debt Solutions, we have helped hundreds of Scots take back control of their finances and ease creditor pressure. Call our expert team today on 0800 063 9250 to arrange a free no-obligation consultation with a debt specialist.

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Sharon McDougall


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