Debt-collecting sheriffs should be able to enforce court rulings on child maintenance payments - report

Previous report found enforcement of maintenance payments single most challenging issue for family courts

Debt-collecting sheriffs should be able to enforce court rulings on child maintenance payments, a wide-ranging report on the role has recommended.

The review of the oldest and the most widely used debt enforcement mechanism in the State was carried out by the Department of Justice and the Revenue Commissioners.

It resulted in 27 recommendations, one of which was to consider additional responsibilities which could be referred to a sheriff for enforcement.

In 2022, a report of the Child Maintenance Review Group found that enforcement of maintenance payments is “the single most problematic and challenging issue” undermining the effectiveness of the maintenance process and was in need of “urgent reform”.


“As an aid to such enforcement, the review group considers that it should be possible for a court to refer a ruling on maintenance, including arrears cases, to the sheriff for enforcement,” the report published on Wednesday reads.

The review group primarily recommended retaining and modernising the office as an “effective debt enforcement mechanism” citing recovery rates “which appear to be high by international standards”.

In 2022, sheriffs received 30,419 warrants from Revenue valued at €411.6 million, yielding €90.4 million in recovered debt.

However, to improve levels of accountability and transparency, the group recommended that more detailed financial and enforcement-related data should be submitted by sheriffs to the Department of Justice, and by county registrars to the Courts Service, on an annual basis.

The report states that the lack of detailed data on income from fees and levels of expenses resulted in the group being unable to make detailed recommendations on a future financing model.

Sheriff fee levels have not been adjusted since 2005, but are calculated as percentages of amounts recovered rather than fixed sums.

This means that a revision of fee levels is “not as pressing as would otherwise be the case”, the report reads.

It also recommended that a liaison officer should be designated in each Garda District to maintain a channel of communication with the sheriff for the area concerned.

The report noted that evictions and repossessions concerning mortgage arrears cases can result in public disorder and extensive media coverage.

“There can often be a misunderstanding or a mischaracterisation of the role of An Garda Síochána in such cases, which may give rise to public disquiet,” the report reads.

The review group stressed that the debt enforcement activity in such cases remains the responsibility of the sheriff or county registrar, and is not a matter for Gardaí “who may be present to prevent public disorder”.

The review also recommends ensuring the appropriate level of oversight by the State, including bringing sheriffs under the scope of the Ethics in Public Office Acts.

Noel Waters, former secretary general of the Department of Justice who chaired the review, welcomed the recommendations to support and modernise the role to ensure its continued viability.

“Key to this modernisation will be the development and implementation of an updated and streamlined joint supervision and oversight strategy between the Department of Justice and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, and I look forward to that being developed,” he said.