If bailiffs want to enter your home, do you have to let them in? What are your rights? And what can they do once they’re in your home? Scottish Trust Deed, the debt solution specialist, explains.
In Scotland, bailiffs are known as sheriff officers. Whilst the traditional image of the bailiff is the ‘debt collector’, someone who’ll remove items from your home in payment of debts, the role of the sheriff officer is much wider than that.
A sheriff officer may be used to collect unpaid debts (or goods equivalent to the debt’s value), but they’ll also be used in evictions, to enforce some court orders (family matters and property arguments), to serve legal papers, and to remove members of your family from your home (if, for example, you have an abusive partner and a court has ordered their removal).
In this post, we explore the powers of bailiffs in relation to debt.
Can Bailiffs Enter Your Home?
In the rest of the UK, the rules surrounding bailiffs are a rather confused mix of strict time limits, court orders and varying rules depending on whether the bailiffs find doors or windows open when they arrive at your property.
In Scotland, the rules for sheriff officers are much simpler. They can enter your property, but only with permission from the court. If they’re coming on a debt collection matter, they should let you know in advance. They won’t usually be allowed to come at night unless the matter concerns, for example, child safety.
If a sheriff officer says they have permission to enter your home, check their identity and authority before you let them in:
- Ask to see their identity booklet (this is usually red, and contains a picture of the officer, their signature and the crest of the Scottish court services).
- Ask to see the permission document. The document will likely use legal language – so it may not specifically say the officer “has the right to enter your home”, but providing it says something along the lines of “grants warrant for lawful execution” that will be sufficient.
- Check what the document gives permission for. A document granting permission to repossess you home, for example, does not give permission to remove goods from it.
Can You Refuse Sheriff Officers/Bailiffs Entry?
No. If you refuse anyway, you could be charged with a breach of the peace, and the sheriff officer will still be entitled to force entry. The law requires the sheriff officer only to use “reasonable force”, but that can include breaking locks, smashing windows or forcing doors.
When Can A Sheriff Officer Take Goods That You Own?
To take goods from you, the sheriff officer will need the court’s permission to enter your home (or workplace or garage – the same rules apply to each) and additional permission to take goods. This additional permission is known as ‘exceptional attachment’.
Exceptional attachment orders can’t be enforced on Sundays or bank holidays. The rest of the week, the sheriff officer must act between 8am and 8pm.
What Can Sheriff Officers Take?
There are strict rules over what items debt collectors can remove, and when. They can’t for example, take anything from your home if:
- They’re using an exceptional attachment order and they haven’t told you in advance that they’re coming
- You’re not in and no one in the property is aged 16 or over
- No one in the property speaks or understands English
- You have a disability which prevents you from understanding the situation
Even if the sheriff officer is able to proceed, they can’t take any essential item. The Scottish Government takes a broad approach to what it classes as “essential”. You can find the full list here, but you may be surprised to know that items such as televisions, phones, children’s toys, computers and microwaves are all presumed to be essential, “so far as they are reasonably required”.
Acting Before The Sheriff Officers Does
If bailiffs are required to enforce a debt collection order, their costs, and the costs of repairing any entry damage will be added to the debt you owe.
That’s why it makes sense to make full and final settlement before any bailiffs are commissioned, if you can. Of course, most people struggling with debt aren’t in that position, but you may be able to pay off part of the debt or agree a debt arrangement scheme with the sheriff officer.
To explore the debt help options open to you, talk to a Scottish Trust Deed debt solution advisor today.
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