Sheriff officers

​What is a sheriff officer?

A sheriff officer is an officer of the sheriff court. They either work for a firm of sheriff officers or they are self-employed.

Sheriff officers act on behalf of organisations you owe money to (your creditors) by:

  • delivering legal paperwork; and
  • taking steps to enforce a court order against you.

What can sheriff officers do?

A sheriff officer's rights depend upon the type of diligence they are taking against you. Diligence is a technical term for debt enforcement in Scottish law.

In most cases, sheriff officers do not have the power to force entry to where you live. Remember, sheriff officers are not the same as the police. They act to enforce existing court orders and they cannot put you in prison automatically for not paying a debt.

The main types of diligence are listed below.

  • Bank arrestment. This is an order which freezes money in your bank account.
  • Earnings arrestment. This is an order which instructs your employer to make regular deductions from your wages which are paid to the creditor.
  • Attachment of property outside your home. This means that a sheriff officer will try to take and sell things you own outside your home. They cannot break into your home, although they can force entry to locked garages and business premises.
  • Attachment of property inside your home (exceptional attachment order). An ‘exceptional attachment order’ is where a sheriff officer seizes property inside your home. This should be a last resort and the creditor would have to apply to the sheriff court before they can do this.
  • Inhibition. An inhibition is a court order preventing you from selling property such as your house, or any land or business premises you own. This is to avoid you disposing of a major asset and not paying your creditors.

How can I stop diligence?

There may be different ways of trying to stop a creditor using diligence against you. For example, you may be able to apply to the sheriff court for an order which stops most types of diligence and allows you to pay the debt by affordable instalments. This type of order is called a ‘time to pay direction’ or a ‘time to pay order’. 


There may be a number of options that can help you to deal with your debts. Some of these can stop diligence.

10 ways to clear your debt

In the Debt topics area of our website, we have a section which sets out 10 ways to clear your debt. You can compare:

  • how big or small your debts must be to use each of these options;

  • what type of debt you can repay using each option; and

  • how long each option might last before you are debt-free.


Complaints about sheriff officers

If you are unhappy with the way a sheriff officer has behaved, or if you think they have gone beyond their legal powers, you can complain.

  • Put your complaint in writing to the sheriff officer or the firm that employs them.
  • If you are unhappy with their response, you can complain in writing to the Sheriff Principal. You can find out how to contact the Sheriff Principal through your local sheriff court.
  • You can also complain to the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers (SMASO). They often handle complaints passed to them by the Sheriff Principal’s office.