Sheriff officer vs debt collectors: what’s the difference?

There’s an understandable panic that arises when you receive a letter through your door from a Sheriff Officer. What can they do? Can they take my things? Do I have to let them in?

It’s a common misconception that a Sheriff Officer and a Debt Collector are the same thing, however, they are very different. Each has their own set of powers, and you have different rights for each one.

As such, we’ve compiled the differences between the two to explain how each one works and the steps you can take to handle the situation should you receive a letter or visit.

What is the difference?

The main difference between a Sheriff Officer and a Debt Collector is that sheriffs are appointed by the court to collect your debt. Debts that are passed to a collection agency have generally only been appointed by the lender themselves.

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What’s the difference in powers?

Sheriff Officers have legal powers, whereas Debt Collectors are only able to take you to court. As such, Debt Collectors do not have the right to enter your home, remove your belongings or force you to leave.

They do not have the right to intimidate you and will usually only visit you to arrange payment for the balance owed.

Sheriff Officers are able to use reasonable force to enter your home if necessary and they do have the right to remove items from your property. However, they are only able to take items that aren’t considered to be essential to your everyday living.

If there is no one in the house or the person is younger than 16, they cannot enter or take any items.

You can find out more about Sheriff Officers’ powers here.

How do I deal with Debt Collectors?

The most important thing in dealing with debt collectors is not to ignore them. This won’t stop them contacting you and can lead to them taking further action against you.

If you are contacted by a collection agency, remain calm and check all the details of the debt first. Make sure you find out what the debt is for, what charges they have added and whether it is you that owes the debt or not.

If you do not believe you owe the debt, ask for proof of the debt. If they cannot do this, then the debt should be written off.

If you feel you are being harassed by phone, you do have a right to ask them to contact you only by post.

How do I deal with Sheriff Officers?

If it is ordered by the court that your debt is to be dealt with by Sheriff Officers, you will be given a notice of 14 days to pay the debt in full.

It is again very important not to ignore this as the longer you do the more powers the officers will gain. Not only can they visit your home, but they can also gain the power to arrest your wages or bank account.

Our best advice if you have received a notice from an officer is to contact them immediately. If possible, try to pay off the debt in one go, if you cannot do this, call them to negotiate payments.

If you are visited by an officer, always clarify who they are, who they are working for and check the paperwork they have to check what rights they have. You do not have to let them in unless they have a warrant that states so.

If you are receiving notices from Sheriff Officers or Debt Collectors, contact a Carrington Dean money advisor on 0141 413 4035 or visit for confidential debt advice