One of the most pressing fears for someone who knows they have some debts is worrying about if and when the debt collectors are going to be arriving.
There are many television programs about bailiffs, Sheriffs Officers, and high court enforcers removing goods from debtors homes and asking them to get family and friends to pay their debts.
In Scotland, debt collectors are known as sheriff officers. They work on behalf of government departments, individual creditors and organisations to enforce a court order to pay a debt. These may be unsecured debts such as council tax arrears or credit card debt.
Power Of Sheriffs Officers
The powers of the sheriffs are limited to enforcing the existing order from the court. Your creditors will only instruct the sheriff officers to take action when all previous attempts to collect monies owed proves unsuccessful.
What Is An Attachment Order?
An attachment order is an order over a movable object, for example, a car or caravan. If the debtor lives in a mobile home, it can be attached, but only if it is not the debtor’s primary residence.
When Can An Attachment Order Be Made?
The order can only be made by a sheriff officer or a messenger at arms. This means that no-one can take your possessions without your permission at any time.
An order can not be made on a Sunday, a day that is a public bank holiday or between the hours of 20:00 and 08:00 unless a judge states otherwise, and there needs to be an amount outstanding with an obtained court order.
When the order is executed, the sheriff has a right to presume the property is yours, unless you are able to provide legal proof that you do not own the property.
When the attachment is executed, the officer needs to immediately complete an attachment schedule advising what has been attached and the value.
He needs to give a copy to the debtor and does not remove the property immediately unless a judge has ordered so. This needs to be returned to the judge within 14-days.
What Can They Take?
If the sheriff officer has an attachment order, they are able to take any goods that are outside your home, unless they are exempt. The majority of items will be exempt from this action as the court recognises that you will need them.
These items can include;
- Tools of trade
- A vehicle that is needed by you that does not exceed the value of ￡3,000
- A mobile home that is your primary residence
- Tools or equipment that is needed to keep a garden or home in a good order
After an item has been attached, it is illegal for you or third-party to remove the item from the property. You are also not allowed to willfully damage the item, or let anyone else do so.
Should the item be stolen, you need to report this to the sheriff officer with details of the insurance claim that you are making for the item.
How Will The Attached Items Be Removed?
After the report is received by the sheriff, the officer can give notice to you that the item will be collected for auction. The officer is then entitled to come and remove the item for attachment. It is then sold at auction.
Can They Force Entry Into My Home?
For evictions and debt enforcement a sheriff officer usually has to write to you in advance to tell you they are coming. A sheriff has the power to enter your home or workplace to carry out an order, but only if the court gives them permission to do it.
In order to force entry when you are home, they are allowed to use what is deemed to be reasonable force, this means they can get it by forcing a door open or breaking a lock or window. If you try to stop them you could be charged with a breach of peace.
To force entry when you are not home, it needs to be to carry out an eviction, make sure certain work has been carried out or getting the property back.
What Is An Exceptional Attachment?
If you owe a debt, such as a large credit card debt, the court may decide that some of your possessions may be taken and sold to pay it. When this happens, the sheriff officer may be given an exceptional attachment.
This means they have permission to enter your home or workplace and remove some of your possessions.
As mentioned earlier, they are only able to take non-essential items. This means they can not take anything that you need for day to day living, such as your bed or washing machine.
The officer needs to tell you in advance if they are coming to action an exceptional attachment.
An officer, however, can not take any of your possessions if the only person at the property is under 16 years old, can not speak or understand English or does not understand the situation due to a mental or physical disability.
What Are My Rights?
- If the officer breaks a lock or a window, you may be responsible for the repair costs
- You have the right to ask the officer to identify themselves, they will then be obliged to show you their ID
- You can make a formal complaint if you feel a sheriff’s behaviour was less than professional
- At any stage, you can make arrangements to pay the sheriff officer all or part of the debt
Trust Deed Example
Example Unsecured Debts
|2||Credit card 1||£6,812|
Your Monthly Repayments Would Be
a Scottish Trust Deed £748
(total contractual repayments)
a Scottish Trust Deed £295
(total contractual repayments)
* Subject to creditor acceptance
* Payment subject to individual circumstances
* Credit rating may be affected
* Fees apply, subject to individual's circumstances. For more information on our fees click here