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What should I do if a High Court Enforcement Officer contacts me?

Sharon McDougall - Updated - 3rd May 2024 - 3 minutes to read

If you have been contacted by a High Court Enforcement Officer, it means that one of your creditors has been through court process to recover a debt. In Scotland, High Court Enforcement Officers are called Sheriff Officers or Messengers-at-Arms. They may also be known as Judicial Officers, and they all have power to take enforcement action against you.

You should not simply ignore contact from a Sheriff Officer or Messenger-at-Arms. You will need to come to an arrangement to pay the amount owing in full, dispute the debt, or negotiate an instalment plan. Otherwise, enforcement action will be taken against you to take control of goods to the value of the debt.

What happens when a creditor is unable to collect their debt?

A letter or visit from a Judicial Officer/High Court Enforcement Officer may not be a complete surprise as several attempts will already have been made to recover the debt in question. Judicial Officers only enter the debt collection process when a creditor has exhausted all other avenues.

This inability to collect their debt could have been due to a lack of response from you as the debtor, or an unsuccessful informal payment arrangement. Your creditor will have issued a final notice for payment before legal action.

It is essential that you take professional advice about what to do next. Contacting a licensed Insolvency Practitioner gives you access to valuable expertise which will help you make an informed decision.

By the time a High Court Enforcement Officer or Messenger-at-Arms has made contact, you should have been in receipt of paperwork from the court. You may have been refused an application for a Time to Pay arrangement, in which case the officer will contact you with regard to enforcing the court decree.

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How can a court decree be enforced?

In Scotland, the enforcement of debt is called ‘diligence.’ Once a court decree has been issued, the type of action(s) taken against you depends on your individual circumstances, including the type and amount of debt owed.

Enforcement action could include one or more of the following:

  • Arrestment of earnings
  • Freezing your bank account(s)
  • Arrestment of goods outside your home
  • Bankruptcy (also known as ‘sequestration’)
  • Exceptional Attachment Order of goods inside your home

A Judicial Officer/High Court Enforcement Officer will serve you with a Charge for Payment and give you a Debt Advice and Information Package. At this stage, you can still apply for a Time to Pay order if the debt is less than £25,000, but must do so or pay the debt in full within 14 days in order to avoid enforcement action.

If the debt remains unpaid, the creditor may be entitled to request more than one Arrestment Order, but an Exceptional Attachment Order for goods inside your home is generally only granted once other avenues have failed.

Seeking the services of a licensed Insolvency Practitioner is key to successful negotiations when your debt situation reaches a serious level such as this. Judicial Officers in Scotland, and High Court Enforcement Officers in England and Wales, have to follow a precise code of conduct and adhere to strict court regulations when serving writs and citations, and carrying out diligence procedures.

Scotland Debt Solutions can provide professional advice to guide you through this complex process.

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Sharon McDougall


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