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How Long Can a Debt Be Chased in the UK?

Written by, Marija Petkova

Updated October, 3, 2023

How long can a debt be chased in the UK?

Most types of debt are written off after 6 years in the UK, but there are many exceptions that shorten or lengthen the limitation period. 

In this article, we’ll explain when debt gets written off, how to figure out if the debt is statute-barred, and what that means for you. 

Read on. 

How Do Debts Get Written Off?

Debt collection laws in the UK dictate that a creditor cannot recover a debt through court action if they haven’t made any attempt to chase the debt within the limitation period.

In practical terms, this means the debt has been effectively written off (or ‘prescribed’), even though, technically, it still exists. 

A debt can also be written off as part of a debt solution, usually if the debtor cannot pay it back in a reasonable amount of time. 

How Long Until a Debt Is Statute-Barred or Prescribed?

Under the Limitation Act 1980, most debts in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland have a limitation period of 6 years, including benefit overpayments, personal loans, store cards, rent arrears, overdrafts, and payday loans. 

This essentially means that if the creditor waits too long to take action to recover the debt, after 6 years, the debt will likely be written off. If the debt is over 6 years old and has become statute-barred, the creditor will not be able to sue the debtor or take any court action for the money they’re owed. 

If they take you to court within the limitation period, you won’t be able to write off the debt even after 6 years.

There are some exceptions to the limitation period. For example, mortgage shortfalls have a limitation period of 12 years, and personal injury claims have a limitation period of three years. 

In Scotland, most types of debt have a prescription period of 5 years. However, mortgage shortfalls, council tax, and some DWP benefit overpayments there have a prescription period of 20 years.

How Do I Know If My Debt Is Statute-Barred or Prescribed?

Your debt is statute-barred if:

  • The creditor hasn’t issued a CCJ against you for the debt within the limitation/ prescription period. 
  • You haven’t made any payments towards the debt in that period.
  • You haven’t written to the creditor acknowledging that you owe the debt for at least 6 years (limitation period).

Is It a Good Idea To Wait For the Debt To Be Written Off?

If you’re coming close to the limitation period or your creditor hasn’t taken any action against you yet, you may find it tempting to leave it as it is on the off chance that the debt becomes statute-barred and is eventually written off. 

However, not paying the debt when you’re still not out of the woods yet is never a good idea. You run the risk of getting a CCJ issued against your name, your credit score will plummet, and you might start receiving calls and visits from debt collectors. 

Having a CCJ on your credit record will make it extremely hard to get a loan in the future, even though there are lenders that offer loans to people with a CCJ

Can All Debts Become Statute-Barred?

Most debts can be written off after 6 years, and some have longer limitation periods, but there are debts that cannot become statute-barred. 

Income tax debt, VAT, and capital gains tax debt to the HM Revenue & Customs does not have a limitation period, which means the HMRC can chase you for the debt and take you to court, regardless of how much time has passed. 

What Can a Creditor Do After The Limitation Period Has Passed?

Once the debt has been statute-barred, the creditor can contact you to ask you for payment (if they’re not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) to ask that you repay it. 

Note that a single payment or a formal acknowledgement on your part that the debt exists can restart the debt even after the limitation period has passed. This means the creditor could take legal action against you to recover what they’re owed.

What’s more, some creditors can still take your money without going to court even if the debt was statute-barred, especially if they can deduct money directly from your wages or benefits without the court’s permission. 

For example, creditors that collect DWP, HMRC tax credit overpayments, as well as local authority benefit overpayments can take your money even for statute-barred debts.

What Should I Do If My Debt Is Statute-Barred or Prescribed?

If you’re certain that the limitation period has passed and you haven’t heard from your creditor, you don’t have to take any action regarding the debt. 

If the creditor contacts you, tell them that the debt is statute-barred and that you won’t be making any payments toward it. You can ask them to stop contacting you or to send evidence that the debt has not been statute-barred.

If you’re not sure whether the limitation period has passed, you can check the date of the last payments you’ve made toward the debt by looking through your credit file or old bank statements. 

Alternatively, you can contact the creditor and tell them you believe that your debt is statute-barred. If that is not the case and they send you proof of payment or written acknowledgement of the debt, you’ll need to start paying it.

Alternatives To Waiting For Debt To Be Written Off

Some of the available debt solutions that could write off at least one part of your debt are:

  • Debt Relief Order (DRO): If your debt is relatively low and you have few assets, a DRO can help write off some of all your debt.
  • Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA): An IVA is a formal agreement that will allow you to pay back what you owe in instalments you can afford. Unsecured debt is written off at the end of the agreement.

Alternatively, you can ask your creditor to write off your debt. While it’s extremely common, some creditors agree to write off your debt if:

  • You can prove you’re experiencing financial difficulties and you’re unable to repay your debt.
  • You’re a pensioner or a vulnerable adult.
  • You have serious medical issues.

If you have multiple debts, you may want to consider taking out a debt consolidation loan.

Bottom Line

While there are several ways to get debt written off, it’s unlikely to happen, especially for people who have multiple debts. Ignoring your debts or waiting for the limitation period to pass is inadvisable, given that it can negatively impact your credit score and result in a CCJ.

Frequently Asked Questions And Their Answers

Can a debt be chased after 10 years in the UK?

Some debts can be chased even after 10 years. For example, mortgage debts have a limitation period of 12 years and income tax, VAT and capital gains tax debts can be chased indefinitely. If you’ve taken a mortgage with an IVA, it will remain on your credit file for 6 years.

What happens if you ignore UK debt collectors?

Ignoring debt collectors will not only damage your credit score, but you will likely end up with a CCJ.

When does the clock start on debt becoming written off?

The limitation period starts ticking when it defaults. That’s usually the last payment, but it can also be the last time you acknowledged the debt.

How long can a debt be chased in the UK?

For most types of debt, creditors have up to 6 years to take action to recover the debt before it’s statute barred. The exceptions include income tax, VAT, and capital gains tax, which have no limitation periods.

My name is Marija, and I'm a financial writer at DontDisappointMe. Although finance might not be everyone's cup of tea, my 10+ years of working in one of the biggest banks in my country, and my interest in extensive research on everything finance/investment-related, have made me somewhat of an expert in the field (if I do say so myself). No longer having the passion to work in a corporate setting, I decided that I couldn't let all of this knowledge go to waste so I started writing. And, here I am! Today I try to share my knowledge with my audience in the hopes of making this topic as simple and interesting as possible. In my leisure time, I like spending time with my family and travelling to new locations.