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What powers do bailiffs (sheriff officers) have in Scotland?

Sharon McDougall - Updated - 22nd April 2024 - 3 minutes to read

Sheriff officers work on behalf of companies, government departments and individual creditors to enforce court orders relating to unpaid debt. This may be unsecured debt such as Council Tax arrears or tax payments. Sheriff Officers are also known as bailiffs and they operate on an employed and self-employed basis.

The powers of sheriff officers are limited in so much as they can only enforce an existing order from the court. Creditors are entitled to instruct sheriff officers to take action only when they have made several attempts to collect their debt.

One of the main concerns that debtors have is that bailiffs will come into their home to seize possessions indiscriminately, and that force will be used to gain entry.

Forced entry is allowed in certain cases during enforcement of debt procedures, but it is quite rare, and is only allowed on possession of a specific authority from the court.

It is worth bearing in mind that you may face a ‘breach of the peace’ charge if you try to prevent bailiffs entering your home when they have a legitimate court order.

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What goods can they seize?

If the sheriff officer has an attachment order, they are entitled to take any goods from outside your home unless they are exempt. The majority of your possessions will be exempt from seizure, as it is recognised by the courts that you will need them.

If non-exempt items are stored in a garage, for example, and the bailiff gains entry, these goods will probably be seized and subsequently sold. Your car may be at risk, as well as any other types of vehicle stored outside, such as a motorbike or a bicycle.

In general terms – luxury or non-essential items can be taken by sheriff officers, which could include:

  • Vehicles
  • Furniture
  • Jewellery
  • Art
  • Televisions
  • Technology/games consoles

When can they enter your home?

If they have an ‘exceptional attachment order,’ they can enter your home and seize non-exempt possessions from inside your house. If you are not there, someone else must be present who is over the age of 16 and understands what is happening.

Again, you will find that many of the goods inside your home are exempt. In order for the exceptional attachment order to be valid, you must have received a Debt Advice and Information Package from your creditor, who must also have a ‘charge for payment’ for the debt(s) in question. A charge for payment is a formal demand.

Sheriff officers are not allowed to carry out the exceptional attachment order apart from between the hours of 8am and 8pm, and not at all on a Sunday or a Bank Holiday. They don’t normally notify you when they will be calling unless they are in possession of an exceptional attachment order.

Can a sheriff officer visit my business premises?

Unless part of your business premises is also used for residential purposes, sheriff officers can force entry with a view to seizing goods for re-sale. They will identify items to at least the value of the debt (the extra is to cover their own expenses), and these might include your computer and peripheral equipment such as a printer or scanner, raw materials or other stock.

The type of debt being collected also influences which items a sheriff officer can take. You must not remove or damage any goods which have been earmarked for seizure if they remain at your business premises, as this would be seen as contempt of court.

As far as personal possessions are concerned, essential items needed for daily life should not be seized. If the sheriff officer attempts to attach an item that they believe is non-essential, but you consider essential to your daily life, you can argue a your case for it to remain.

What are your rights when faced with a bailiff visit in Scotland?

Scotland Debt Solutions can negotiate with your creditors, and offer professional debt advice to support you from offices throughout Scotland.

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Sharon McDougall


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